What the Sydney clubs can hope to get out of the Arsenal friendlies

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Pre-season friendlies are hard to take too seriously. Very little of consequence can be extracted from the result – even the performances – from either the A-League host or the touring Premier League visitors.

    Assuming the touring team fields a close-to-full-strength squad, unlike the hybrid first-teamers/aged legends rabble Liverpool rolled out in May, a gap in quality often distorts the contest.

    Sydney and the Wanderers are not expected to beat Arsenal, and with both teams in pre-season, it’s unlikely we’ll see a match that climbs out of the lower gears of industry.

    SBS are showing the game, winning the airing rights late in the day, apparently the beneficiaries of a bidding process that wasn’t all that competitive. The interest in these friendlies, certainly from a broadcasting standpoint, is dwindling. The ABC’s coverage of the Liverpool match can’t have helped in this regard.

    This will be an evening out for Australian Gunners, to see their North London idols in the flesh, and will certainly be a thrill for them. But what will Sydney FC, and their fans, or the Wanderers and theirs, get out of all this?

    Aaron Ramsay celebrates FA cup final goal

    (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    Well, it will be a hell of a tune-up for both teams. Arsenal kick off Sydney FC’s pre-season fixtures, a match to be followed by three other ties against the Earlwood Wanderers, the Macarthur Rams and Darwin Rovers FC. Those three teams have a combined monetary value of which, when compared to, say, the fee Arsene Wenger paid for his new striker Alexandre Lacazette, resembles a fart in a hurricane.

    Sydney FC will experience something akin to the bends, but in reverse, going from Premier League to the Football NSW Premier League. If Sydney FC are well and truly rogered by Mesut Özil and co, at least they know they’ll be the big, bad bullies in their next few fixtures.

    There is a supplementary competitive factor to this game too. Western Sydney play Arsenal on Saturday, and will be hoping to better the effort of their local rivals two days earlier. A healthy Sydney Derby is good for the A-League, and getting the rivalry jump-started in the pre-season, if only a little, is a fine idea.

    The Wanderers will not have enjoyed watching Sydney roll to the league double last season – as much as the consolation of ruining their unbeaten streak would have satiated them – and will hope to provide a better challenge in 2017-18.

    Both games will be played at ANZ Stadium, and it appears the Wanderers will be relied on to provide the fiercer home support. It would be a surprise to see a majority home crowd, with Euro-snobs out in full force, but it would be less of a surprise at the Wanderers game.

    Speaking of the Wanderers, like Arsenal they’ll also be debuting a newly acquired striker – Oriol Riera. A 31-year-old Spaniard, Riera was reared at La Masia but last seen on loan at Osasuna and joined the Wanderers earlier this month.

    Western Sydney were plagued by a lack of goals last season, despite possessing – in Jumpei Kusukami, Mitch Nichols and Nico Martinez – some of the league’s most creative attackers, and so Tony Popovic will be hoping his newest signing fills that particularly important void.

    tony-popovic-western-sydney-wanderers-football-a-league-2016-tall

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Popovic has an extremely streaky record when it comes to foreign marquees. For every Shinji Ono, there’s a Federico Piovacarri. Instantly Riera has drawn unfavourable, yet baseless, comparisons with Sergi Guardiola, who infamously flopped for Adelaide last season.

    Wanderers fans are wary of pinning their hopes to Riera. Since leaving Osasuna in 2014, he hasn’t scored more than four goals in any of the subsequent campaigns, including a season back at Osasuna on loan.

    Needless to say, like Besart Berisha and Bruno Fornaroli, a mediocre career before joining the A-League doesn’t necessarily equal a mediocre career in the A-League, so the sooner Riera can gel with his new teammates, the sooner we’ll see how good he is.

    Sydney have spent most of the off-season re-signing the core of players – sans Danny Vukovic, who’s off living the dream at Club Brugge – that triumphed last term. As far as new signings go, only Paulo Retre, released by Melbourne City in June, has joined. Charles Lokolingoy ought really to get a run-out for the Sky Blues, to help make his case for a more prominent first-team role.

    Bernie Ibini and George Blackwood have departed the club, the latter leaving this week for Adelaide, so the position vacated by Filip Holosko in the starting XI is still very much up for grabs, with few suitors. Graham Arnold would do well to audition for the role over the next four games.

    And then what, one might ask, will the football-watching public get out of these friendlies? Well, we can hope for a telecast less grating than the ABC’s efforts two months ago, so that the football might be the biggest talking point at the end of the evening.

    We can hope for an effort from Sydney and the Wanderers that when combined make for a pleasing advertisement for the A-League. We can hope that Arsenal arrange for our viewing pleasure a few sumptuous passages of play – perhaps their close control might even prompt the FFA to reinstate national futsal funding, which was inexplicably cut a few weeks ago.

    The professional game is growing slowly but surely in this country, and as spangly as these Premier League globetrotters are, events like this don’t really quicken the process all that significantly.

    Two teams in the early yawning phases of pre-season will wander onto the pitch tonight, and then again on Saturday. Only small lessons will be learned.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • July 13th 2017 @ 5:41am
      jeff dustby said | July 13th 2017 @ 5:41am | ! Report

      $$$

      • July 13th 2017 @ 4:04pm
        Arky said | July 13th 2017 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

        And exposure.

        But mostly $$$.

      • July 13th 2017 @ 6:32pm
        LuckyEddie said | July 13th 2017 @ 6:32pm | ! Report

        It’s mindboggling that people pay big money when the EPL circus comes to town to make some quick money and flog off the new jerseys. These are utterly meaningless games with only one objective MONEY.

    • July 13th 2017 @ 8:33am
      marron said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Your hopes of an advertisement for the a-league through atmosphere will be in vain I think Evan.

    • July 13th 2017 @ 8:36am
      Josh said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      I expect WSW to beat Arsenal.

      When we score the place will light up.

      • July 13th 2017 @ 10:19am
        Sydneysider said | July 13th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

        “I expect WSW to beat Arsenal.

        When we score the place will light up.”

        Will be interesting to see the atmosphere at the Saturday game.

        Remember the Eurosnobs enjoyed seeing SFC getting lapped by Liverpool a few weeks ago, whereas the Wanderers might have a bit more street cred due to their fans.

        I still expect Arsenal to beat the Wanderers but will be interested to see the if the Wanderers support will be substantial enough against the glory hunters.

        I hope it is.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 13th 2017 @ 10:49am
          At work said | July 13th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          I think there will be more WSW fans compared to the SydFC support, but that’s fine as this is their first hit out against a big English club (if my memory serves me correctly).

          Can’t see either Aus club winning unfortunately.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 13th 2017 @ 10:47am
        At work said | July 13th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        No pyro not party ay Josh.

        Typical, it’s all about the RBB.

    • July 13th 2017 @ 8:39am
      Buddy said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      In the last few days, since he arrival of Mr Wenger and co, I have read a number of articles heavily critical of Liverpool and the way their post season trip was managed and there have been some contrasting pieces written about the way the current visitors are conducting themselves. What we need to remember is that the clubs tour as a marketing exercise and to try and engage with their own fan base around the world. Liverpool fans that I have spoken to all enjoyed seeing their heroes of yester year combining with current players on the field. They all got to sing ynwa and were happy stumping up the dollars to be part of the night. The host clubs – well they aren’t even hosts technically….. They are there to play the part although in the case of WSW, it could be interesting to see if the active support is loud and vocal unlike at most similar events. At best, the games remind us that there are A League teams out there somewhere although having the long break sometimes means we just switch off. If the attendances are good and people are willing to pay for this sort of event, I don’t see it as anything bad. It means there is interest in the game at some level. It doesn’t necessarily provide converts to local leagues, it raises the ire of everyone who has anything to say about euro snobs…… Best of all it gets us talking about the game we love and at this time of year, that has to be a positive!

    • July 13th 2017 @ 8:45am
      Nemesis said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      “Pre-season friendlies are hard to take too seriously. Very little of consequence can be extracted from the result – even the performances – from either the A-League host or the touring Premier League visitors. ”

      Bingo!

      And, that should have been the extent of the article.

      12 months ago, MVFC out of season beat Juventus & Atletico Madrid. Both matches were played with more intensity than mere exhibition and a 16yr old kid named Seb Pasquali from Wangarratta impressed so much, one of the world’s most respected football academies signed him.

      If you set your expectation gauge at: “It’s only a friendly”, you won’t be disappointed with any friendly football match.

      • July 13th 2017 @ 11:09am
        punter said | July 13th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Bang on Nemesis, spot on!!!!

        ‘If you set your expectation gauge at: “It’s only a friendly”, you won’t be disappointed with any friendly football match.’

        It allows Arsenal fans to see their idols play live for maybe first time in their lives.
        It allows SFC & WSW fans to see the season start & hopefully see a potential new superstar.
        It allows SFC & WSW players to mix with some of the best in the world, in some cases, their own idol.
        It allows SFC & WSW coaches to mix it with one of the greatest managers of all time.
        It brings in some $$$ as Jeff says, t brings in some publicity on football in the off season when dominated by State of Origin.

        But it’s no biggie, as a neutral, for example for me WSW v Arsenal, will I care to watch, if there is nothing else. So need to treat it this way. It’s a friendly game that will draw a lot of Arsenal or even those wanting to see some of the top players. Nothing more, nothing less.

        • July 13th 2017 @ 11:10am
          punter said | July 13th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          I wonder if this article got moderated, when discussing the Gunners proper name.
          Come on Mods, this is a joke.

    • July 13th 2017 @ 8:54am
      Fadida said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      History shows that if our sides win “it’s only preseason and the result means nothing”.

      If we lose it’s “the a-league is rubbish” ie the result matters.

      I think it’s called a no-win situation

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