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

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , 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.