It’s been another difficult summer for Arsenal. The early arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were initially inspired, but now underwhelm, as captain Robin van Persie prepares to walk away.
Arsène Wenger has felt the strain more than most, and after two weeks of intense criticism and question asking, he will no doubt be glad to retreat to Asia tomorrow afternoon, as the club begin their tour of the Far East.
A chance to get away, and focus on the business of moulding his much critiqued new boys into an ever-evolving new-look squad.
Wenger took training on Friday morning already in the knowledge that van Persie would not be travelling. He will stay behind in a bid to work on fitness, and more crucially, a move away.
It’s a decision that will make the headlines, but Wenger is already planning for the future. Van Persie drops out, and is replaced in the travelling party by 19-year-old Benik Afobe. He is one of a handful of fringe first-team hopefuls who will board the plane tomorrow, desperate to force his way into the squad for next season.
Afobe has had a tough 12 months. This time last year, he was on the cusp of the first-team, but suffered a serious knee problem that needed a substantial operation. He returned, but found little game time on loan at Reading, before disappointment with England at the Under-19 Euro’s over the summer.
It’s not quite make or break, but it will feel like it.
Afobe will be joined in the squad by close friends Chuks Aneke, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris, all of whom already have their eyes on loan moves, but will want to stick around to feature in the Capital One Cup next term.
Wenger is also planning on taking the much maligned Craig Eastmond – a player who has impressed in pre-season training, and did well on loan at League 2 outfit Wycombe in the closing stages of the last campaign. It is very much his last opportunity to leave an impression.
Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, we will also get a look at German play-maker Thomas Eisfield. He arrived in January in a rushed deadline day deal, and although has had injury problems, is highly rated.
It’s a tour aimed at building the commercial networks at Arsenal, but make no mistake, the trio of fixtures are auditions for the names mentioned above, and they know it.
The hard work only begins here.