Yesterday’s pre-season friendly with Barnet will not live long in the memory, but there were some positives to take from the encounter. Firstly, Tomas Rosicky’s long-awaited return, as well as Nacer Barazite’s sumptuous finish.
But it was one of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup-winning heroes who stood out in Luke Ayling. On as a second-half substitute, Luke showed exactly why he was offered professional terms by the club earlier this summer with a fine display.
Partnering new signing Thomas Vermaelen at centre-back, it could be argued that some of the Belgian’s experience rubbed off on the youngster and Ayling certainly looked at home alongside the former Ajax captain.
To think that just 12 months ago his future at the club was in doubt shows how much he has improved. He was far and away the best player for Steve Bould’s under-18s in the first half of the season and stepped up to the Reserves as the campaign drew to a close, whilst also juggling those Youth Cup commitments.
With Kyle Bartley absent yesterday, Ayling had a chance to prove his worth and he took it with both hands, something which will no doubt have impressed Arsene Wenger, although the Frenchman is already well aware of his ability.
The first-team and the reserves now go their separate ways, with Wenger welcoming back 14 members of his squad for the pre-season tour of Austria, which begins with a game against SC Columbia on Tuesday. Accompanying the first-team squad on this trip are usually a sprinkling of youngsters, and Wenger has a tough decision to make over who will make up the numbers.
Emmanuel Frimpong, Sanchez Watt and Mark Randall all started the game yesterday, but emerged from it with varying degrees of success. Watt was the best performer out of the trio, bursting down the left flank and crossing for Arshavin for the opener, but Frimpong is nowhere near full fitness yet although he did fly into some trademark crunching challenges.
Which leaves Randall. A veteran of these pre-season tours, Mark has been on the periphery of the squad for three years without ever really coming close to breaking into it. A loan spell may be needed this season in order for him to get regular football, but his performance yesterday epitomised why many fans have lost patience with him. His passes were loose, his work rate was poor and his criminally late challenge gave away the free-kick from which Ismail Yakubu headed home Barnet’s equaliser. It’s clear that Randall has some talent, but he needs to show it on a more consistent basis.
Barazite’s goal was spectacular and he was lively as usual, so too was Sunu although he didn’t have the same success in front of goal. Jay Simpson, meanwhile, has come to a crossroads in his career where he has to decide what is best for him. Either he goes full pelt and attempts to break into the first-team squad, which could happen following the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor, or he pursues his career elsewhere.
Conor Henderson came in for some criticism yesterday, but, considering he missed the majority of last season through injury, his lack of awareness and occasional lapses in concentration were understandable. He also played some superb passes which Cesc Fabregas would be proud of, although he is still some way off the first-team picture.
Wenger now has a decision to make. Who will join the first-team squad on the plane to Austria? Surely Ayling and Barazite will be there, but we will have to wait and see.
Arsene, it’s over to you.