SAITAMA – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes Ryo Miyaichi is looking more like his old self after struggling with injuries over the past year, but the Frenchman has stopped short of promising the young winger a place in his squad for the coming season.
Miyaichi came off the bench to play the second half of Arsenal’s 2-1 exhibition-match win over Urawa Reds on Friday night, building on a 45-minute stint in Monday’s 3-1 victory over Nagoya Grampus as he seeks to recover from an injury-plagued season loan at Wigan Athletic.
Miyaichi has yet to make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal since joining the Gunners in January 2011 — spending subsequent seasons on loan at Feyenoord, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan — and Wenger refused to give a firm commitment on the 20-year-old’s prospects with the London club expected to be active in the transfer market this summer.
“He has done well tonight,” Wenger said of Miyaichi, who joined Arsenal direct from high school. “I believe you could see that he finds his sharpness back. He was better tonight than the other night already. He is on the way up and he is in the team. He fights for his position like many players, and I like his game.
“At the moment I believe that he is in a position now where he needs to play to have a good chance to compete at the top level, and at the moment he will stay in the squad. Should we buy more players, then I have to reassess the situation. At the moment he stays with us.”
Miyaichi hurt his groin in November last year before an ankle injury in his first game back with Wigan spelled an early end to his season in March, and the Aichi Prefecture native is taking nothing for granted as he tries to force his way into Wenger’s thinking.
“I’ve been with the team for about a week, and to be involved in training at the highest level has been a great experience for me,” said Miyaichi. “I’m confident that no one can beat me for speed, but when you look at the likes of (Theo) Walcott, the way they use their speed is very effective.
“I don’t know what will happen. All I can do is give it my best shot. It’s an important season for me with the World Cup coming up, so first of all I have to stay fit and build up my body. I just have to do my best and contribute to the team.”
Lukas Podolski scored a 49th-minute opener for Arsenal in front of 40,769 at Saitama Stadium, with Yuki Abe equalizing for Reds before 17-year-old Chuba Akpom secured the win for the visitors eight minutes from time.
Podolski also believes Miyaichi has the potential to succeed at Emirates Stadium, but the German is more concerned with getting ready for the Aug. 17 Premier League kickoff after helping the club complete its preseason tour of Asia with a perfect record.
“Ryo is a little bit unlucky because he had a big injury but now he is back, he has his fitness, and he is a good player with a lot of speed and good dribbling,” said Podolski. “He can be a good player for us.
“It is always important to score goals. I know it’s a friendly game and we are in preseason, but it was a good goal and I am happy with it, and now it’s time to go home after 16 days. It was a good trip in Asia and we enjoyed it. We were in Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan, and it was a great trip.”
Urawa went into the game on the back of two straight defeats that dropped the Saitama side into fourth in the J. League table, but Abe was happy to fulfill a personal ambition having missed out on the chance to face Arsenal during an 18-month stint in England with Leicester City.
“I’ve always liked Arsenal, and when I was over there I always wanted to play against them in the F.A. Cup,” said Abe, who returned to Urawa in January last year. “I didn’t think I would be able to play against them in Japan. They played against Nagoya and their physical condition wasn’t good, but it was great to be able to face them at Saitama Stadium.
“Our defending hasn’t been good recently, but tonight we were playing against a team stronger than we are used to in the J. League, so to be able to hold them goalless for a while was good for us. We were also able to show what we are capable of in attack, so we have to try and build on that.”