The word that springs to mind when describing this game vs MK Dons is perspective, because it was in their previous friendly that MK conceded six goals against Norwich, so let us be supercool about what we saw. It was a case of practicing pressing, passing and playing out from the back, getting match fitness and sharpness and it was therefore a good workout.
Mistakes were made, passes went adrift, chances weren’t capitalised on and some players missed their opportunity but in general it encouraging.
Arteta will have used this game to try out some new ideas like Willock at right wing back, Smith Rowe on the left and then the right wing, Nelson in reverse, Elneny in the Ceballos role, Saliba in a trio with Holding and Tierney, plus a whole host of new youngsters – the next generation – from our talent machine at Hale End.
For many of us it’ll be the first time we’ve seen some of these players so, given the circumstances, it’s really difficult for me to give them a mark; and I’ll leave that up to someone else. But this is how I felt they played:
Leno: made one really smart save from a free kick and looked completely over his knee injury. Didn’t have much else to do as MK were poor in attack but was generally steady in all he did.
Saliba: very assured, very composed and comfortable among his new team mates, was never stretched and controlled pretty much all that came his way. A good debut.
Holding: with the exception of his spectacular diving header he had a good game as the senior centre back, coped comfortably throughout his 60 minutes on the pitch but unfortunately most fans will remember the own goal.
Tierney: another faultless performance from our left back, he never has a poor game and I’m very glad about that. Keeps everything simple and under control, is fast becoming my favourite Arsenal player.
Maitland Niles: nothing too eye catching just did a solid job, it’ll be a shame to see him leave if he does in fact leave because he is such a versatile and valuable player.
Soares: had a steady 45, didn’t get forward that often, tended to hold back and keep us in a back four shape when we attacked, in fact the defensive organisation of the team was actually what really impressed me; the improvement in that area of play is remarkable.
Xhaka: good old steady Granit just keeps thing ticking over especially in this new age of Arteta organisation. Everything looks like a fine Swiss timepiece, Xhaka knows exactly what he has to do and where he has to be and that’s his job – a job he does to perfection. It just goes to show what some thoughtful coaching can achieve.
Elneny: put in an energetic 60 minutes with maybe an eye on impressing the boss and you certainly couldn’t fault his effort. He scored a really good goal by keeping his head as the ball came to him following a defensive mix up, he didn’t try to lash it he simply passed it into the net, a very composed finish. He did a lot of good work but gave away far too many daft fouls and that in the Premier League would have seen him in big trouble. Overall a good performance.
Saka: his part in our 2nd goal was excellent where he took a smart pass from Soares in one of his rare forward sorties and turned a superb cross into the path of Eddie who did his thing. He was a constant threat and took a few heavy kicks for his trouble during his 45 minutes but just got on with it.
Nketiah: Eddie was all over the place continually pressing and chasing, he looks stronger and fitter from last season and looks well set to be having another good season. Took his goal with the minimum of fuss and seems ready and able to be making quite a few more of those mobile phone celebrations this campaign.
Aubameyang: if I was giving out marks I’d give him a 4 as he pretty much just strolled through his 45 minutes, that said he could have still scored a couple. He has nothing to prove, we know he’s brilliant now sort out the contract.
Willock: half time sub for Soares and did ok at right wing back, got forward a couple of times to good effect. I wonder if Arteta sees him permanently in this new position?
Ballard: half time for Saliba, a bit rough around the edges but battled away, he’d be just the right man for a wet Tuesday night up in Stoke as he doesn’t hide and given that he’s had to fight tooth and nail for his Arsenal career I’d never write him off. Needs to polish his act up a bit, but if determination gets you to where you want to be then this lad has it.
Bola: half time for AMN, had a very steady 45, he quietly got on with his job at one point saving our reserve goalkeeper from an embarrassment after he slipped over.
Not sure if he’s got what it takes but he’s certainly worth some more game time, maybe in the League Cup.
Smith Rowe: half time for Saka, big things expected from him and highly rated by Arteta but failed his audition. Didn’t do enough for me.
Nelson: half time for Auba, tried a few mazy dribbles and tricks but it wasn’t coming off. One of the few we have who runs at opponents and tries to commit them and it finally came off when he drove into the box and was fouled. Got up and calmly slotted home the penalty. I like Reiss, he gives us something different but he needs to deliver more often as patience isn’t in abundance with so much on the line and so much competition. He took a lovely corner though and plonked it right on the head of the scorer of our 3rd goal.
McGuinness: replaced Holding on 60 minutes and scored our 3rd goal when he lost his marker and thundered his header past a stranded MK goalkeeper. He look composed, read the game really well, came out of defence and into the midfield when he needed to break up opposing attacks. For a big guy he is very nimble on the ground, has a sound technique and actually looks a very promising prospect.
Cottrell: small, compact and like a terrier because he never stopped running, tackling and competing. Skillful in tight corners and he always tried to play his way out of situations. He tackles like he means it and definitely looks like he’s got something to offer.
Olayinka: I’ve seen him a few times before and he’s always done well but this time he seemed a bit off of the pace. Just my view but I still like him.
Azeez: very tall, strong and technical lad, he’s got that touch of class, you know always has time on the ball, only had 30 minutes but has 1st team firmly printed on his forehead.
John Jules: almost scored and linked up well with Nelson, he has a lot of talent but is probably a scorer of great goals rather than a great goal scorer.
Macey: he won’t be giving Martinez and Leno sleepless nights, but he made a couple of decent saves and almost dropped a couple of huge clangers. He’s a goalkeeper, it happens….
In the last 5 minutes George Lewis came on and Oyegoke came on, the former didn’t touch the ball, the latter looked pretty good.
Feel free to disagree.