Arsenal will take on New York Red Bulls in the final match of the Emirates Cup tomorrow. Here to help us take a look at the MLS side is Ben Schneider, Managing Editor of Once a Metro, SBN's New York Red Bulls blog. Ben is also a frequent commenter here as well as being an Arsenal supporter.
Emirates Cup Scouting Report: New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls come into this weekend's Emirates Cup off the back of their worst run of form in the tenure of head coach Hans Backe, with a tired squad badly lacking in proven depth. The team's record in friendly tournaments is mixed, with several poundings at the hands of Barcelona (who were frequent summer opponents for many years) mixed with decent results against Mexican Primera sides and some European opponents.
In spite of their poor form, the Red Bulls have one of the most talented starting XIs in Major League Soccer, have recorded some good results this season, and definitely have a bit of tenacity and fight about them. New York hasn't won nearly enough games, but they have pulled many draws back from losing positions, including this past weekend against FC Dallas, when a brilliant Thierry Henry strike bailed out the ten-man Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls' goalkeeping situation was an absolute shambles up until two weeks ago, when the club signed former German international Frank Rost, most recently of Hamburg SV. Up until then Backe had been flipping back and forth between the somewhat-solid-but-far-worse-
Rost kept a clean sheet in his first game with the Red Bulls, a 0-0 draw with Chivas USA, but was lit up for four goals just a few days later against the Colorado Rapids, almost entirely due to a horrific performance by third-choice centerback Carlos Mendes. Rost gave up two more goals this past weekend against Dallas, but of the six New York has conceded with the German between the posts, only one of them might be considered his fault. He will probably turn out to be one of the better goalkeepers in MLS, but has suffered so far due to New York's generally poor defending this year.
After a 2010 season in which they became noted for grinding out 1-0 wins and rarely giving up more than one goal, most fans expected the Red Bulls to be similarly solid at the back this year. Through the first seven games, New York had only conceded twice, and shifting Rafael Márquez from a very deep defensive midfield position to central defense looked a masterstroke. Since then, however, the Red Bulls have conceded twenty-six goals in sixteen games, including three goals or more on four occasions, while recording just two clean sheets in the same stretch.
With two of the best central defenders in MLS in Tim Ream and Márquez, this seems a very strange state of affairs. However, the Mexican captain only returned from two months out due to Gold Cup duty and injuries this past weekend, and Ream also missed several games while with the US team at the Gold Cup. To make matters worse, the Red Bulls have one of the worst left backs in all of MLS, and have been forced to play a midfielder at right back -- and both of them have started every game this season. Roy Miller is an awful footballer, and will probably be torn apart this weekend by whomever Arsene Wenger puts on the right side of the Arsenal attack. Jan Gunnar Solli has become one of a few good attacking fullbacks in MLS, but as a natural attacking midfielder he is not as good defensively as New York's normal starting right back, Chris Albright, who has missed almost all of the season so far due to injury. Albright is back after knee and back surgery, but will probably play just one of the two Emirates Cup games.
The Red Bulls' midfield has gone under significant changes in the last few seasons: two of the current starters weren't playing for the club last season, and the first-choice combination has only been together for a few weeks. Dane Richards is the longest-tenured of New York's starting midfielders, having been with the team for all of his five seasons as a professional. Lightning quick with a dangerous shot, Richards has improved markedly over the past year, but still has a tendency to take the wrong passing option and miss some simpler chances.
In the middle of the midfield, Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty make for a very small (both are around 5'9") but technically proficient central combination. Neither is particularly enterprising, but Tainio, a former Tottenham and Sunderland player who arrived this past winter, is certainly the more defensive of the two. McCarty was a key piece in the FC Dallas team that lost in the MLS Cup Final last season, and came to New York as part of a major trade with rivals DC United several weeks ago. On the left is New York's best player over the past two seasons, Estonian international Joel Lindpere. He's not the quickest of players and probably isn't even a natural left winger, but has performed brilliantly in the role and endeared himself to the fans with tough performances and total commitment to the cause (he has forgone international call-ups to play for New York several times).
There are only six midfielders (plus Solli) in the Red Bulls' squad for the Emirates Cup, and one of the other two names will certainly ring a bell for all Premier League fans: John Rooney. Yes, he is Wayne's brother, and despite our protestations to the contrary ("Best Rooney Ever" is one of the South Ward's favorite songs), he's nowhere near as good as the Manchester United striker. The other midfielder who could feature (probably against PSG) is Matt Kassel, who is in his first professional season after leaving the University of Maryland a year early. Kassel is an attacking central midfielder, but hasn't been able to play in that position for the Red Bulls so far, with his only appearances coming at right back (in place of Albright, who was injured at the time).
If there's one thing the Red Bulls can do, it's score goals. With the best goalscoring record in the league (39 goals in 23 games) and the league's scoring leader in Thierry Henry (11 goals in 18 games), New York is set up to put the ball in the back of the net (at the expense of the defense). Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, their best striker not named Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, is injured and has not traveled to London. Rodgers, formerly of Notts County, has been among the best newcomers to MLS this season, and New York will miss both his individual quality and his link-up play with Henry.
Instead, Backe will turn to the young US international Juan Agudelo. Yes, that Juan Agudelo. A Red Bulls Academy product, Agudelo has been lauded as a player with the potential to become the first world-class American striker. As someone who watches him week-in, week-out, I can assure you that he he has a looooong way to go. While he has very good technique, he is far to selfish at this point and tends to make poor decisions in the attacking third. He may score a spectacular goal this weekend, but don't ask Wenger to put in a bid for him: I assure you, he's very far from the finished article.
Do I really need to tell Arsenal fans about Thierry Henry? Probably not, but he is worth a few words. The Red Bulls captain hasn't always shown great leadership, but has scored nearly a goal a game since April and added a few assists as well. While he's clearly lost a bit of pace and been nagged by some injuries, Henry is still an extremely potent threat and is surely New York's most likely scorer against Arsenal.
Tactics & Style
Always 4-4-2. Well, almost always. Hans Backe has used 4-4-2 in all but two league games since he became Red Bulls manager before the 2010 season. It hasn't always been the same type of 4-4-2 (he used a diamond for most of this season until the last few weeks before moving to an orthodox set-up), but he just can't get away from a two-striker system. In fairness, the talent New York has and has had in forward positions practically demands such a system. Solli and Richards both tend to push up on the right hand side, with the central midfielders sitting fairly deep. Miller is clearly a weak link, but with Lindpere willing to tuck in and track back when necessary, the left side isn't totally open.
The Red Bulls were a somewhat negative team last year, fairly conservative and not always likely to score. That has changed significantly this season (as I've discussed above), and much of that is due to the very different style that New York now utilizes. It's generally a possession-based game, and the Red Bulls have looked quite like Arsenal in parts of some games this season.
First-Choice Starting XI (Likely to start against Arsenal):
Rost; Miller, Ream, Márquez, Solli; Lindpere, McCarty, Tainio, Richards; Henry, Agudelo