This was an intelligently arranged fixture, a stiff challenge, obviously organised a while ago in the knowledge that we not only had the first game of the season to follow but the probably more important Champions League qualifier three days later. We drew Celtic but it could just as easily have been Athletico Madrid and that would have invoved us playing them on a day when they meant business rather than on the training game mode that we witnessed during the Emirates Cup.
Valencia was an opportunity for Wenger to try out what he must have viewed as his starting eleven against Everton; an opportunity to jolt the defence out of the comfort zone that they had been cruising in during the recent friendly games.
It would have been just as easy to have played more cannon fodder from north of the border only to run rings around and tell ourselves that there is nothing to worry about but Valencia are not cannon fodder, this is an extremely skilful, mobile unit, capable of beating any team in Europe on their day. My surprise was only how a club in such dire straights financially so as to make Newcastle seem positively flush seem to have managed to keep hold of so many top quality players and top they are; I suspect that if we had their squad at the Emirates not too many of us would be complaining.
If one of the principle reasons for this fixture was to give the defence a wake up call then that is exactly what they got — and there was nothing gentle about it, playing Valencia was the equivalent of being woken up by an electric cattle prod.
Our defence took to the field still with sleep in their eyes, all of them looked slow and slovenly by contrast to the Valencia attack who looked rapier sharp and that was without David Villa whose absence I can only explain by the suggestion that his sale is imminent and that the coach wanted to try and prove to the rest of the team that they are capable of winning without him – remember that one? Anyway, with David Villa or without him Valencia were going through our defence like a hot knife through butter; I feared a rout but we steadied ourselves. Gallas was first to spring back to life, followed shortly after by Clichy, then Djourou, as best he could, and finally Song wiped the sleep from his eyes and started to position himself better.
To describe the whole of the defence as slow starters would be unfair as Eboue came out of the traps and hit the ground running and running well to boot: playing in his most suited role as right back he showed us once again just how good he is in that position to the point where I unashamidly give him my man of the match award. I can only assume the reason for his selection ahead of Sagna was because he is the only player who is for sale and has yet to find a club that wants to buy him; if only he didn’t panic when he got into the opponents 18 yard box he would have suitors such as Milan rather than Fiorentina as every other part of his right back game is impressive.
Fabregas moved his world class dial from six, which it had been set on for previous friendly games, up to eight, there is still more to come should he wish but he is impressive enough in a game like this when it is set at eight.
Arshavin was the other contender for man of the match: gone was the ear to ear smile of last week’s jolly and on was the look of determined concentration; he was moving the ball around with the world class dial set at nine.
Well they are the easy players to assess, I like Bendtner out on the right and I expect him to do very well next week against Everton but yesterday his age and lack of experience showed and I found myself wondering what our team would be like with David Silver in that position.
RVP: I am a fan, so I am always going to give the Boy Wonder the benefit of the doubt but number nine? Really! Time will tell…ok,ok…I admit it, I was wondering what it would be like with David Villa there.
And so to Diaby, this is his make or break season, it looks like Wenger is going to bring things to ahead by prioritising him and I will reserve judgment until I see more. The good thing that sprang to mind was that the system that Wenger seems as though he is going to favour is easily changed: Edurado could play along side RVP in a 4.4.2 formation or Rosicky could replace Diaby, so could Nasri, so still plenty of options.
The second half was just a training ground kick about so I don’t see too much can be learnt from it or needs to be said about it. A couple of points of interest are that if Walcott has made Wenger unhappy about playing for the England under 21’s then this could lead to Wenger picking him on merit rather than the priority he has been given to date for being the token Englishman: this I view as an improvement. The other thing was the noticeable absence of Denilson?