Arsenal head to Germany to play their final warm up match of the summer and with the start of the Premier League season just a week away, the Gunners have an all too familiar sense of déjà vu.
Lukas Podolski’s quicker than expected return to Cologne might be a talking point among the home fans as the German international makes his debut for Arsenal against his old club, but for Arsene Wenger there is still one overriding issue that casts a shadow over the Gunners’ preparations.
At the time of writing, Robin van Persie is still an Arsenal player and his future is about as clear as mud. With claim and counter claim coming from the Emirates and Old Trafford, which now appears like the Dutchman’s most likely (only?) destination, RVP’s mooted move to Manchester United is to this summer what Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Thierry Henry and more have been to previous off-seasons and once more Wenger is close to losing a top player against his will.
Wenger’s side have won only one pre-season match and with Cologne already having started their 2. Bundesliga season, the Germans will have a fitness edge and can take advantage of an Arsenal team not yet ready for the rigours of the new campaign.
Understandably, much to Sir Alex Ferguson’s annoyance, Wenger seems extremely reluctant to sell his captain and top scorer to United and Arsenal’s fight to keep hold of another star player who wants out is again becoming tiresome and distracting.
The whole Van Persie saga masks that Arsenal have done some good, early business and the singing of Santi Cazorla in particular is a fine purchase, especially at the cut price they acquired him thanks to Malaga’s financial problems. It means that even if Van Persie’s departure looks inevitable, Arsenal are at least in better shape than they were 12 months ago, when a last minute dash in the transfer market yielded flawed results that undermined the team’s beginning to the season.
Wenger knows that he must get a better start in 2012/13 than he did last time, when his team took just seven points from their first seven matches. To that end, the fixture list hasn’t been too kind – trips to Stoke, Liverpool and Manchester City, plus a home game with Chelsea, await in their first half dozen games. So a tough start awaits, and Arsenal still seem a bit undercooked going into next week.
Their final match of the summer against Cologne in the RheinEnergieStadion is the first time Wenger will have a full squad to choose from (barring injuries) which is perhaps why the Gunners are such strong favourites at 1/2. The draw is 14/5 with the home team at 9/2 and the first thing to say is Arsenal look short at those odds.
A mixture of injuries, absentees and the obvious lack of sharpness at this point in the summer means Arsenal have been underwhelming in pre-season. Alongside the absentVvan Persie, none of the new signings – Podolski, Cazorla or French striker Olivier Giroud – have been involved so far and with injuries accounting for Jack Wilshire, Tomas Rosicky, Bacaray Sagna and others, Arsenal’s preparations have been hampered.
That trio of new buys will get a run out on Sunday, but I’m still to be convinced that Arsenal are firing yet and the home side are a decent bet at 7/5 to avoid defeat. Wenger’s side have won only one pre-season match – a lucky late win against Malaysia XI – and with Cologne already having started their 2. Bundesliga season, the Germans will have a fitness edge and can take advantage of an Arsenal team not yet ready for the rigours of the new campaign.
Recommended bet: Cologne to avoid defeat against Arsenal @ 7/5
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