St Mary's Stadium
I'm off to Southampton this afternoon for the first pre-season game of the year. It's not really a proper match as the boys (and I use that word advisedly on this occasion) take part in a triangular tournament involving two 45-minute "matches". Nevertheless, the first chance to see Arsenal after the close-season is as exciting as ever.
There will be a few senior players in the squad, including Arteta, Gervinho, Djourou and a few others. Marouane Chamakh has apparently also been put in to the group for today. Francis Coquelin will be there, while Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos will share duties at left-back. Thomas Vermaelen will surely lead the team in at least one of the games.
Aside of the senior players there is a chance for Arsene Wenger to get a look at one or two youngsters. Martin Angha, a young Swiss centre-back, has been part of the training group this week, while Kyle Bartley has announced his promotion to the first-team having returned from Rangers. Kyle Ebecilio is rumoured to be the man most likely to be promoted from the youths and Reserves for this season. Thomas Eisfeld, the January signing from Germany has recovered from his injury problems and is set to feature. Having seen the pictures from training this week we might even get a look at the lesser spotted Abou Diaby. I've said for two years that he is surely in make or break time, but he must be now.
I fully expect Arsenal to struggle in the games they play this evening. It must be remembered that this first friendly has been against Barnet for the past ten to fifteen years. It hasn't often mattered who has been in the Arsenal team when playing against a fourth division side. Today we start against a newly promoted Premier League side and the Belgian Champions (one of the most famous names in Europe, and worthy of more than a footnote in Arsenal's own history). Having so many young players will see Arsenal at a disadvantage, I'm sure. However, the result is genuinely of little consequence (assuming we don't get thrashed by three or four goals!) I'm looking forward to it, and a win would be very nice indeed.