30 July 2013

Emirates Cup Preview: it's clobberin' time, Napoli...

It looks increasingly unlikely that we'll hear of any major transfers before this weekend's Emirates Cup, so let's set aside the feudin' and a-fussin' and get down to some fightin'. We have a number of tricksy clubs coming to town, including a sassy one from Napoli, stealers of Gonzalo Higuaín's signature. They deserve a proper thrashing for that (even if we have only ourselves to blame. Scapegoating is always easier than looking oneself in the mirror). More seriously, let's have a quick look at the three teams we'll be hosting as well as the schedule itself. For those not familiar, each team plays twice, with the standard three points for a win and one for a draw, and a point earned for each goal scored on top of that. This year sees Napoli, 2nd place in Serie A this past year; Porto, champions of the Primeira Liga; and Galatasaray, champions of the Süper Lig.

Schedule (London times listed)

Saturday, August 3rd:
  • Arsenal v. Napoli 4:00pm
  • Galatasaray v. Porto: 6:20pm 
Sunday, August 4th:
  • Napoli v. Porto 4:00pm 
  • Arsenal v. Galatasaray 6:20pm 
I don't know if you can talk of a favorable draw--I might have argued that Porto would offer the stiffest challenge a few weeks ago before transfers took place. Now, however, I wonder if Napoli is the biggest threat to us winning our own tournament. More on that below as we run through the three teams.

Napoli 
First, we really need to settle their hash. They've been nothing but trouble since selling Cavani. His transfer drove up prices, tightened the market, and, of course, gave Napoli cash to spend on Higuaín. Had we just boosted our bid instead of fawning over Suarez, we'd have Higuaín. Our fault. Similarly, Napoli's nabbing of Reina might further complicate our pursuit of Julio César, half-hearted though that has been. It remains to be seen how well these two additions can bed in, having just joined the squad last week. They've made a number of other minor additions, such as Raul Albiol and José Callejon (is there anyone from Real Madrid who hasn't signed with Napoli?) to make up for some equally minor departures. Napoli hosted and defeated Galatasaray 3-1 in a friendly the other night, for what that's worth. Rafa Benítez's tenure at Napoli, ironically, could just begin with one more trophy in London if he can get these players in order. Let's see to it that he doesn't have to suffer that irony.

Porto
As I mentioned, Porto might have offered the stiffest challenge to our winning the Emirates Cup. However, they've suffered the departures of João Moutinho and James Rodriguez, and with no significant replacements signed, have left some holes in their squad, but they'll still have the dangerous Jackson Martinez, scorer of 26 goals in 20 appearances last year. Without Moutinho to organize things, Porto will have to rely even more on Martinez to score—something he may struggle to do if our defense can focus on stopping him. As with Napoli, Porto seems interested in snatching players before we can; they've been strongly linked with Bernard even as we've come closer to signing the diminutive Brazilian. However, we don't get to face Porto, so there's not much in the way of revenge for us to pursue, at least on the pitch. We may just have to settle for signing Bernard instead.

Galatasaray
Eboué! Eboué! Eboué! Eboué! Eboué! C'mon, admit it. He might just be your favorite ex-Gunner. He may have bottled a few here and there, but he injured John Terry once, and that counts for something, doesn't it? I kid. One should never seek to injure another human being. Then again, John Terry. Let's move on. There was a time when I actually started to fear this team; they deployed not just Eboué but Sneijder and Drogba. However, Drogba is aging and decrepit and no longer strikes fear into my heart. However, this is a feisty team, and we'd be remiss to overlook them. For one, merely typing the team's name stretches me to the limits of my abilities. They did give Real Madrid a run in the Champions League, winning 3-2 at home but losing 3-0 at the Bernabeu to fall on aggregate, 5-3. We might look down our collective noses at the Süper Lig, but Galatasaray didn't advance to the Champions League quarterfinal based on good looks alone (I promise I'm not slighting Drogba with that suggestion).

Long story short, this could be a barn-burner, especially if we falter against Napoli. They strike me as the toughest team among the three we've invited. A lot depends on which players each team sends out, of course, but I like our chances even if some of our youngsters feature ahead of first-teamers. Zelalem and Akpom in particular looked sharp on the Asia Tour. It should be exciting one way or another, that's for sure.

If you have any predictions or insider knowledge that I'm not privy to, feel free to share. While you're here, consider going over and voting in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for Arsenal bloggers and writers. Woolwich 1886 is honored to be nominated as a Best New Blog. Thanks!

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