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:
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!