Arsenal v Atletico Madrid, Emirates Cup, August 1, 2009
As the departures of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure sink in, Arsenal host the third installment of the Emirates Cup. It is unlikely that Arsene Wenger is worried about where the trophy ends up, but the Gunners will be aiming to reclaim the trophy they claimed in 2007 and relinquished to Hamburg in 2008.
There have been some positive signs so far in pre-season for Arsenal. Nicklas Bendtner (13/2 to score first) and Eduardo both scored a brace in the win over Hungarian side Szombathelyi which suggests the loss of Adebayor will not stop the Gunners from scoring. And the goal scored by Cesc Fabregas (4/1 to score) against Hannover on Wednesday night illustrated that there is still great eye-catching quality to this Arsenal side.
Question-marks are bound to be raised about the state of the defence with only Thomas Vermaelen brought in to shore up a backline that needs to be strengthened if a serious Premier League challenge is to be made this coming season. Arsenalâ€™s extended flirtation with Felipe Melo earlier this summer indicated that a defensive midfielder (Patrick Vieira or Blaise Matuidi?) will also join the club in the coming weeks. (Arsenal are evens to keep a clean sheet.)
Arsenal have been written off before under Wenger, not least 12-months ago when Spurs were heavily hyped to be poised to snatch the fourth Champions League spot – a prediction that, with the bonus of hindsight. went horribly wrong. And even after the Lillywhites fell out the race to join the Big Four, Aston Villa were primed to oust Arsenal from the top spots, only for that forecast to go south too.
The matches against Atletico Madrid and then Rangers will allow â€œThe Professorâ€ to utilise his squad and are the last games prior to next weekâ€™s friendly with Valencia before the season starts.
Atletico are likely to be the toughest opponents faced by Arsenal with a strike force that should test Vermaelen and company. Diego Forlan (15/8 to score) and Sergio Aguero (2/1 to score) have been coveted players this summer but the South American strikers look like staying with the Rojiblancos and will surely bang in the goals again in 2009/2010.
Like the Gunners, Atleticoâ€™s problems can be found in defence. Despite finishing fourth in La Liga last season they conceded 57 goals which was more than any other team in the top seven. (Atletico are 7/2 to keep a clean sheet.)
As a result, they have brought in three defenders this summer, veteran Juanito and youngsters Jorge Pulido and Rodrigo Cabrera. Whether a summer spending spree that pales into comparison with neighbours Real Madrid can improve them from the last campaign remains to be seen.
With teams earning an extra point for every goal they score and with two teams who prefer to attack than defend, there should be goals. Arsenal will likely shade it due to superior fitness and the home support.
101gg predicts: Arsenal 2 â€“ Atletico Madrid 1 (7/1)
Full match odds here.