Xhaka Conducts, Elneny READY, Holding and Bielik Shine: 8 Friendly Observations

MLS All Stars 1 – 2 The Arsenal

It is hard to make anything from pre-season friendlies, and with all the personnel changes it makes no sense to do a full match report. Yet we can make some observations and pull some early conclusions.


I enjoyed watching this game: there was a good tempo throughout and some good stuff on display. With the big five still warming their cockles on various beaches across the world and other first teamers ensuring they ease themselves back in to the new season, there are a few players for whom these pre-season friendlies are precious opportunities to establish themselves (again). The likes of Theo, Debuchy, Chambers, Gibbs and even Jack come to mind.

On top of this, there are a handful of youngsters who will want to show they are ready for this season’s squad. I am glad that Mesut, Aaron, Ollie, Laurent and Alexis are not available as this opens up opportunities for others to shine and for us to make a judgement about their readiness for the big time.

Who is shining and who is dark matter? 

Please add your own, but here are my eight observations:

  1. Xhaka brought structure and Swiss precision to our passing in the second half: a melody started to emerge from the cacophony of the first half. Not that we played bad, but I thought Jack was too subdued (a bit like his contribution to the Arsenal pre-game press conference), easing himself back rather than his usual demanding style of play. We allowed the Americans to co-dominate midfield and there was plenty of space to create chances for Theo as a result. But Xhaka led through his actions and body language and we played much more ‘The Arsenal Way’ from the moment he arrived. Jack will need to up his game sooner rather than later, without getting injured of course…
  2. Elneny is already ready for the start of the season. What an engine this man has, how well he reads the game and how effective he passes the ball. The beauty of simplicity personified. I am starting to see a new Gilberto in him with glimpses of Vieira’s ‘presence’. Absolutely love this guy. Spend some f**king money? No, always look at improving the squad and spend what’s needed: big when available (Xhaka, Ozil, Alexis), or small when a gem emerges unnoticed on the surface (Elneny, Monreal, Cazorla). The combo of Coq and Elneny was strong and hardly gave anything away, except for the last minute in the second half (after Coq’s ‘confrontation’ with Drogba) when we were left horribly open for the All Star’s equaliser, when Gibbs gave the ball away badly and Drogba was left in space to pounce three times before poking the ball past our last line of defence.
  3. Cech looked very hungry and made some fine saves. I loved Petr’s press conference contributions: confident, calm and enthusiastic, and he had the same presence on the pitch, but change ‘enthusiastic’ for energetic. We need a good season from him, and with the BFG out for ‘months’ we need Cech’s leadership and organisation skills more than ever to make us calm and secure at the back.
  4. The young CBs Bielik and Holding were very impressive and it must have been great for them to play in front of the great Cech. Their performances were not faultless but it would be petty to expect this. Their calmness and hunger to keep a clean sheet really impressed me. Their was dominance in the air, especially from the towering Holding and tidiness when working the ball out of the defence to midfield, greatly supported by Coq and Elneny’s link up play. No doubt Wenger will not want to rely on these youngsters for the coming season, but they showed real promise for the future.
  5. The youngster who came on in the second half played with confidence and along the philosophy of the ‘Arsenal way’, which was a joy to watch. It is hard to pick out one of Jeff Reine Adelaide, Iwobi, Willock, Akpom and Zelalem. I though they had all good moments but what I liked about them all is the way they fitted into the team and played with maturity and in a cohesive way – led from behind by Xhaka the conductor. Akpom positioned himself very well for the winner and that had been missing from the entire team until then. Especially Theo’s positioning was poor when playing against a withdrawn defence, making it really hard for the creative players in the centre and on  the flank to pick him out/ link up with him. Akpom positioned himself well in general, playing more central and being able to hold on to the ball and create something from in front of the opposition’s ‘D’. As a result we played much better football in the last twenty minutes, even though we also gave away some big chances which we got away with.
  6. It is not happening for Theo and I wonder what is going on in his mind. It looks to me like he is eager not to get injured and treat these games as a way to get back to full match fitness. This I can understand, but Walcott is the sort of player who has to give everything to make a difference as he clearly has limitations. His decision making, positioning and passing were not good enough and he underperformed as a result. It is going to be hard to love you Theo if you don’t start playing with focus and passion anytime soon.
  7. Campbell, Iwobi and The Ox all had decent games in the ‘midwing’ position. They all liked to move centrally and influence the game there, but they also provided some good wing play and worked well with their respective full backs. They are all not the top quality we would love to add to the team, at least for now, but they are working hard and at least showing they should be part of the wider squad.
  8. Nacho and Bellerin looked impressive and played with great focus and hunger after missing out, directly and indirectly, on the Euros. They both put in some great balls and Nacho made the assist for the winner. They are now the main providers of our width and as such vital players both in defence and attack. I feel a bit for Kieran Gibbs. He is not lacking drive but he is the Rosberg to Monreal’s Hamilton: second best and, for now, a position on the bench is the best he can hope for. Nacho plays with such tenacity and fair aggression that Kieran just cannot match it. The same goes for Bellerina who is simply first choice right full back this season. To see them both motoring on and stretching the All Stars’ defence was a pleasure to behold.

So quite a few positive observations and early conclusions, and let’s see how things develop during our next friendly against the beautifully named Chivas de Guadalajara.

Ooh to be a Gooner!

By TotalArsenal. 


23 thoughts on “Xhaka Conducts, Elneny READY, Holding and Bielik Shine: 8 Friendly Observations

  • I know it’s only two games but walcott has been awful in both. I really want him to succeed but with these youngsters coming through along with gnabry I just believe there is place on the right if chamberlain ( who has played well so far) doesn’t want to take his chance this season. I hope the ox does have a good season. The talent coming through now is great and I firmly belive they need game time. If gnabry hadn’t got injured nearly two years back he would probably be a starter for us.

    Excellent point on el neny. The media seem to forget we purchased a very good player in january and now we have xakha, the options we have in central midfield is rich and the combinations we can have is great. It could be defensive with el neny or coquelin alongside xakha or creative with carzola alongside xakha.

    I’m not saying xakha is going to be like xabi alonso but there are similarities and wenger did want alonso before he went Liverpool and whilst he was at liverpool

    Xakha is going to be become a key component in the heart of the team.

    Now we just another defender and a striker. Would have prefered akpom to have stayed at arsenal last season he would have got his chance like iwobi now we go in a little undecided on him and his capability. His loan spell was good but I expectEd him to hit at least double figures at Hull.

  • Nice one TA, and believe it or not I pretty much agree with you. 😀

    Number 2 is interesting, as that there are at least three different versions of who was at fault for the their goal I’ve read so far?
    1,- Beilik for launching a long ball up field that lost possession?
    2,- Debuchy for being slow to get back/ out of position?
    3,- Holding for failing to make a proper clearance after DD’s first attempt?

    And now you are blaming Gibbs … on the other side of the pitch????

    That is one thing I shall have to have a second look at. The other was who made the ‘pre-assist’ to Monreal? I thought it was Zelalem, but I read a report that it as Willock? Anybody?

    The most pleasing aspect for me was, virtually all the players that played in the Lens game improved, even Theo! I think you are right about where it is falling down for him, but if you go back many years ago, when Alan Hanson said he had not got a ‘football brain’? He went on to say that the moment he has to think about (taking a shot) he fluffs it. He is back at that stage now. When he is brimful of confidence and doing things instinctively he is fine? I was a bit surprised he made the CF spot, but he is not in a good place in his head at the moment. Much, much, better with his eagerness to run and do something though, which may help him in the future.
    Akpom dropped all that posturing from the last game, and looked the better for it.
    Elneny got his passing and running game back. Much more like his old self.
    Chambers did nothing wrong in his stint, against some quite tricky opponents. Looks a far better CB prospect than at RB?
    Ox is beginning to look like a proper ‘team’ player, and one that is probably asking AW the most questions right now? He still needs to last more than an hour if he is the one who takes over from Ramsey …. err What? Well somebody will have to finance the big spending???
    Joking … 😀
    Monreal was much sharper, back to his old self.
    Gibbs had a more defensive role to do this time, but is still the best matched back up player we have … I hope that is good enough for him?
    Which brings me to Campbell. He certainly helped Gibbs out down the left flank, and it worked well. For the most part, his touch is looking better too. However, he was not seen on the right until jut before the substitution of both him and Ox coming off. The latter working very well down the right flank with Bellerin. So we will have to see if my case against Campbell and Bellerin is proven or not?

    Of the second half youngsters, like you say, they all had their moments.As a quartet, with Iwobi, they do gel pretty good. In particular in involving Zelalem. I wait to see how he will play if Cazorla or Wilshere are still on the pitch? I think that moving Jeff RA to the middle will take a little while for him to adjust to, but he has plenty of that on his side. As indeed does Chris Willock …err, and even more so for the allegedly even more talented younger sibling???
    Along with Bielik from the first half, the future is looking good … if not quite now?

    Looking for to Monday’s game to have second viewing of the ‘established’ and new signings also settle in. But fully agreed on your comments on them.

    Catch a re-watch later today

  • Gerry, whoever was at left back, which I assumed was KG, totally misplaced his pass under no pressure. This was the key mistake but our central defenders were very unprotected and we got punished for it.

    Pre assist was Willock’s indeed

  • Hey there TA… Very nice match report… I enjoyed the match as well and agree (almost entirely) with your thoughts…except for a couple of quibbles…

    First off, it was Bielek not Gibbs who passed the ball to a MLS player that led to Drogba’s goal. He almost got back to block the 3rd attempt (Cech and Holding blocked the first two) but the placement was ideal and it went in. Ah well… Except for that, I thought he played well and that Chambers, who paired with Holding in the 2nd period looked less sure of himself. Part of that might have been having Martinez in goal instead of Cech. Both teams had some very good chances and our defenders could have been punished further. You’re right that Cech looked bright, however…

    You’re also right about the fullbacks. Gibbs and Debuchy just look less confident on the ball AND aggressively getting into forward positions where they might provide those crosses. Maybe that’s a function of Xhaka looking SOOO strong conducting from the back compared to Coquelin. Santi traveled but didn’t play which was disappointing for me. Pirlo for the All Stars was fun to watch in the role that goes by his name.

    The guy in my avatar (Elneny) looks like he will be worth A LOT to this team and I think he and Xhaka are the future of our MF. Like you say, Jack didn’t look up for a big run or getting into real scoring positions. The Ox is unbelievably good on the ball but tends to take a breather after he moves it on…If you could combine Eleneny’s never stop ethic with Ox’s skillset you couldn’t leave either of them out of the first 11, I think…

    Then there’s Theo and I think people are being too harsh. Yes, he should have put Joel Campbell in for his 2nd goal of the day but it very well might not have been. Joel can only use that one foot so he might have had to shoot from a wide angle… That said, you gotta give props to him for winning and converting the penalty earlier and I think his game (and right foot) still have room to improve. He should get more playing time than the CapOne boys but they looked like a fun group and I’d LOVE to see us make a deeper run in that competition this season with them. A lot depends on the draw there, along with the CL group, but those fellows all looked like they belong in the first team.

    Back to Theo. Given the climate surrounding the club (We need to spend in the place where Theo plays…) he cuts a forlorn figure. Still, even with all those limitations, he’s hardened himself to the point that he will get his goals. Nobody loves him and he was too selfish in the match but maybe that’s as a striker/scorer should be. It’s such a shame that he’s our longest serving player now and that means “most hated.”

    Kind of like the manager… Newness and change are what sells in the frustrating world of football. Still, maybe if you ignore all that and just get the job done it’s OK. Like Wenger, so many Gooners have given up on Theo but my hunch is that the two of them (heads down and ignoring the media and the “fans”) will be the key to our August. The former needs to buy and the latter needs to score and while they may not be everybody’s cup of tea, I think it will happen…

  • Hey Seventeenho 🙂

    Thanks for clearing up who did the misplaced pass. I could not tell from the commentary and TV pictures – the broadcast on Sky was nothing to write home about – but if it was Bielik then that is fair enough and I wont be harsh on him (but would have expected better from Kieran).

    Re Theo, your support is commendable. Yet, please realise I have nothing against him and just judge him on his game. It was sooo bad, Seventeenho, in every aspect, but I am happy to agree to disagree with you. 😉

    I like the thought of these youngsters getting far in the League Cup this season… question is whether Wenger will send many of them on loan rather than wait and see how they will do in the cup(s)…

  • Yeah, Willock made the overlap pass to Nacho that led to the goal… Very nice, I thought and something I wish our first teamers did a little more. Alexis makes that pass on very few occasions (but enjoys Nacho making the runs as a decoy)…. Bellerin is so quick that he was getting to the end line on his own with ease yesterday… We have found our successor to Sagna, we just have to hope that the same is not true for Guardiola (at Man City)…

    I don’t mean to bring others down, but THAT’S the plan. Financial strength to hold onto our best players and ward off the silly money clubs. Of course, winning is the key, too. Every year we say it, but with AW in the final year of his contract, this one feels very, very important…. That’s why the only thing I really didn’t enjoy about the match was the American commntators (Taylor Twellman…who?….) going on and on and on about “feeling for Arsenal supporters” who want to see Wenger spend and this being the season that we fall out of the top 4…etc., etc., etc.

  • Hey TA… Theo is a limited player but IF he’s able to do what he can do, it could be good. Didn’t you used to write headlines like “Arsenal get (already have) their 20 goals/season guy” about him? 😀

    For now, I just don’t feel like piling on with the idea that just because it didn’t come off he’s shite…Did you see that miss by the American, Wondolowski? Almost as bad as the one he whiffed in front of the Belgian goal in the World Cup that would have made them Wales-esque in that tournament… People in San Jose still like him but San Jose (maybe) isn’t Highbury/Islington…

  • Thanks also for the Scotland stuff… I’ve enjoyed your country (A lot) but it sounds like there’s even more I need to know… With my wife enjoying “Outlander” so much (her “kilty pleasure,” as they say…) surely we’ll have to get back soon…

  • Holding on to players is key and is the other BIG change in recent years, agreed Seventeenho 🙂

    I have a little time left for Theo, but judging on his last season and these two early friendlies, it is not looking too bright for him. However, I agree he could become very important for us this August.

  • The Highlands are on another level than Southern Scotland, Seventeenho. Apparently, many million years ago a large part of Canada broke off and smashed eventually into Great Britain at the level of Loch Lomond…. forming the ancient Highlands. You should come indeed, and you will be more than welcome here again. 🙂

  • Awful awful news. Ben Yedder has gone to Sevilla apparently. I am too upset to comment on the article itself. I will go sulk in a corner. Maybe I’ll even have a moan about Wenger and a lack of signings and spending the money.

  • I have not seen that confirmed, Shard, but I can understand your disappointment if true. The Terror Window can get us all at times 😦

  • Sorry TA, I’m very much on the move at the moment and hope to be doing some sort of outdoor adventure (with the kid…) over the next several days. I’ll be taping the match, however…

    Chivas (meaning goats…) have had a real struggle in Mexican football and were close to relegation last season… I think they’re more mid-table at present. Mexican football is hard to follow with its two halves of the season (apertura and clausura) and then playoffs after each one. That’s about all I can tell you, in fact…

  • Wait. So this isn’t the MLS club Chivas we’re playing? Now I’m embarrassed that the Guadalajara didn’t make me think it was the Mexican club. I just assumed it was a rebranding of the US franchise or something.

    On the article.
    1. I actually wasn’t that impressed by Xhaka. I suppose it’s because I’m super excited about his arrival, but I thought he looked rusty. Sure, he’ll get better and we got a glimpse of what he can do, even if he was over-hitting his passes, or mistiming his tackles right now.

    2. Elneny is awesome, and though I expect Ramsey and Xhaka to be first choice, Elneny has a real chance of establishing himself in the opening few weeks. Long range shots from both him and Xhaka combined with their passing and running abilities should help us open up the defense.

    3, 4, 5. Cech was great and I feel has something to make up for this season. He let in a few goals that he shouldn’t have. Especially from long range. The Cbs were impressive. Both looked calm on the ball, even if Bielik did give away a poor pass for the goal. The youngsters in the second half gave us new impetus. Zelalem was probably the least impressive, but you can see the ability is there. Maybe in a year or two. Willock and Jeff are both going to be stars one day, and since Jeff has been promoted to the first team, I expect us to not buy a wide player. Especially because Gnabry is there too. Akpom should be third choice CF. Deserves a chance now I think.

    6. I was prepared to give Theo another chance, but he’s not shown anything (only 2 games in) this pre-season to suggest he’s going to have a better season than last time around. He could be an option on the right wing, but the competition there is intense, and he’s probably going to lose out to players with better technique and seemingly, more hunger. He doesn’t have the skills or awareness to play CF for us with any regularity.

    7. I like them all, though I feel we can do with an upgrade on the wings. Still, unlikely with Ox, Walcott, Campbell, Iwobi, Jeff and Gnabry all there. If one were to leave, I would want it to be Theo.

    8. Nacho and Bellerin are great. I like Gibbs too. But worried about who is Bellerin’s backup. Not a fan of Chambers playing there, and not sure about Jenkinson who is still injured anyway. I liked Dubuchy when he first came in and he was unlucky to twice get injured. But his head seems to have gone and I think he’ll be out of the club. Perhaps Holding and Chambers can split the backup RB role.

  • Nice read Total, not sure that I can add anything to what’s be written already…

    Having seen young right-back, Chiori Johnson on TV playing in the FAYC and reading encouraging reports on him from Jeorge Birds blog, I think we could see him progressing towards the fringes of the 1st team squad over the next 18 months.
    He looks a very technically accomplished footballer…

  • Cheers Shard and Kev ⚽️😀⚽️

    A bit surprised, Shard, that you didn’t think Xhaka had a great game, but maybe we had different expectations. He played less deep than I expected, which I am sure will change once everybody is back, but I loved his sharp passing and great reading of the game. Also loved the venom in his free kick 💥

  • While we are kicking our heels before the next game … which I will watch ‘live’, I found watching the whole replay was a bit like watching a film I had already seen, and therefore did not give it my full concentration, and partly why I left out comments on the new players.
    Anyway I thought I would indulge in a little transfer chatter.

    I said in an earlier comment that there was a game of bluff going on regards to signings, and personally I find it one of the more distasteful aspects of these transfer windows.
    Players names are getting leaked to the eagerly awaiting press/bloggers with the sole purpose of trying to get the real target to make their minds up so when the final ‘final’ offe is made the deal is as good as done. I think Ben Yedder was one such example, with Mahrez being the real target.
    What Leicester have done is drive a bit of wedge between players when it comes to new contracts. Vardy got his top whack with the £120k per week, yet the reported offer to Mahrez is ‘only’ £100k? Everybody knows that between them they scored more goals than any other in the league, but less when one was missing. I think Mahrez has taken that to heart, especially if Arsenal agreed in an instant to make him what? the 3rd highest paid player at the club. He is seriously considering that otherwise Leicester would not now be pulling out all the stops, including the latest one, getting Vardy on why it was easy for him to ‘snub Arsenal’ (one of the media’s favourite phrases), and adding that Mahrez should do the same. Belatedly I think they will offer him parity with Vardy, but whether that is enough to make him stay is something he will answer in the next few days ….

    I think the same thing is going on with the link to ex Man U defender at West Brom, the real target being Musafi? If that link had come this time last season I would have dropped my cornflakes in a fit of uncontrollable laughter … but now? Well it has to be said, on the few occasions I saw him play, Jonny Evans is a lot better player than he was at Man U?
    He is however, a pawn. For one thing, apart from money, there is not much point in moving for a bit part role when he already plays regularly? However, AW is trying to get Musafi’s price down to as near £20 as he can, even allowing for the weakening £ versus the Euro.

    Finally we come to Lacazette? So many pawns involved in this one. Plus the added complication of the Lyon President not liking AW, which makes negotiations difficult. Then there is the seriousness of Lyon needing to sell, given they got a good boost when they sold Umtiti?
    It might come down to an ‘acceptable offer’, maybe in excess of £40, but AW will not want to go that far. My thinking is the total spend on the above three players cannot exceed £100m, which will include two big wages over 5 years. Lyon are in the drive position, despite the player ‘allegedly’ asking for the move to go ahead. The only thing in our favour is that no other club seems to be making bids. If they do, AW will walk away.

    In the meantime, we have a promising young squad who might just fill in should all of the above fall apart.
    Ox best place to take the Walcott spot and Mahrez absence. But others might suggest Campbell
    Holding best place to take the Gabriel spot when needed, and to share RB duties with Coquelin.
    But Chambers looks the only option for Kos at LCB, short of losing Monreal at LB?
    Striker support …. still open, but Campbell to back up Alexis and may be Giroud too. Akpom has got keep on improving to get the main CF role, and Jeff RA will pick up the scraps that the above and Iwobi leave behind.
    Walcott will not get his confidence back if fans are writing him off. He is much better than what he has shown thus far, but he may need a move to show it?
    In other words, signings could make the difference to our season’s tale?

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