Barcelona 2 – 1 Arsenal: Eight Observations.
Arsenal’s final pre-season game was at the packed Nou Camp and the boys did us proud. In these sorts of games we should only really look at one half – the one with the strongest team put out by Emery – and at a few individual performances during the other one. Players will be careful not to get injured as the season’s start is only a week away and there really is no point in going all out in a friendly against a team that is just starting their pre-season campaign. What matters most is team structure, positional play, tidiness and ability to create chances. And what I saw was once again promising.
- Emery started with Xhaka as the captain (a logical choice if there ever was one) and combined him with Willock. Now this is promising in terms of getting the balance right in midfield. Willock is wonderfully all-round in his midfield play: he can stay deep with Xhaka to give him the needed extra protection, can make the B2B runs AND offers an attacking threat too. I love this guy and what he does to free up Xhaka to run/give structure to our game. Torreira has a bit of a fight on his hand to force himself back into the team.
- Ainsley Maitland Niles has made progress. Yes he scored a howler of an own-goal, but these things have happened to the very best players. Forget about it and let it not cloud your judgement of what this man has to offer to us. His natural calm, upper-body strength, and effective wing-play where at times a joy to watch (if only Auba was stronger in the air…). Defensively there is room for improvement of course, but at times he looked majestic and much older than he is. I have no doubt that AMN will become a top player, but we need to remain a bit patient with him, and not judge his natural calm nature as him being lackadaisical.
- Chambers and Big Sok looked strong and organised. It suited them of course that we had to play very deep and so they had much more protection from midfield than usually – a luxury that will not be available a lot this season – but I liked the chemistry and relative calm of both of them. Many will blame Mustafi for the late Barca winner – confirmation bias is sooo appealing – but it was of course a mistake by the whole ‘defence’. Nobody picked up the shoulder muncher from midfield and both CBs left far too much space between them. Not good but quite understandable given there just had been a CB substitution.
- Leno had a good game. We know that he is technically a gifted GK but he also had personality in the box and put attackers off. We have a quality nr1 goalie this season.
- Pierre is Auba-bang-bang in form at the moment. What a fine Henry-esque goal he scored last night. Xhaka-Ozil-Auba combined to surprise the Barca defence with quick, high quality passes and a thumping finish. Many will not have noticed Xhaka’s contribution but that is exactly what he does so well: quickly moving on the ball, finding the best man and play the ball into their feet. Mesut’s disguised pass to Auba was perfectly weighted, giving Auba the time to free himself into a shooting position and then the best part of 100k spectators where reminded where to put their postage stamps: an all-round fab goal.
- Saka deserved an assist and Martinelli got very, very close to winning the game for us late on. Nelson also had a decent game. All impressed me with their energy and fearlessness. There is a lovely calm in Saka’s play and I love Martinelli’s Reyes-esque drive and thrust in his attacking play. We need a bit more bite where and when it matters from Nelson. Early days of course but there seems a lot of potential in all three of them.
- Emery’s decision to sit deep and play compact against Barca made of course sense, but we could have done with a bit more bravura in the second half. We were pushed deeper and deeper and became totally reliant on our counter-attacks. Not having Laca and Pepe available was of course a big miss as our midfielders lacked options to play themselves out of the Barca-press, but this is an area for improvement for the team. Of course it also does not help that in friendly games too many changes are made, totally disturbing the flow and intensity of formation/tactical approach.
- But the boys did us proud and with Holding getting closer to first team football, Torreira and Ceballos to strengthen the midfield further and Laca and Pepe to be added to our attacking line, we are looking pretty good in almost all departments..