Plenty to chew over from yesterday’s 2-2* draw over Chelski at the Emirates, some good, some shall we say ‘less so good’.
Let’s get the less so good stuff out of the way first though, because I’d rather finish today’s blog feeling a little more positive, given that it’s a Monday morning.
Arteta named a pretty ‘stong’ starting XI and, Granit Xhaka aside as he’d only just returned to first team training two days ago, as well as Bukayo Saka who has been on his holidays, this felt to me like the side closest resembling the one that will line up against Brentford in just under two weeks time. Leno in goal, Chambers at right back (Arteta was even asked about Bellerin afterwards and was pretty non-committal about his future, which tells me he’s off if Inter pull their fingers out of their own arses), Tierney at left back, Holding and Mari in the middle of defence, Partey and Elneny in mifield, behind a three supporting Lacazette of Pepe, Smith Rowe and Aubameyang. We started quite brightly and Auba got in a couple of times in the first few minutes, but after about 10 minutes it became clear that Arteta was trying something a little different out, which was to press higher up the pitch. Against lesser teams this might be a good option to be fair to the manager, but against Chelski it just didn’t work. They have pace and power and players who can hurt you on the counter and on 26 minutes that’s just what happened.
Rob Holding was about 15 yards inside their half when the ball found Werner who had acres of space to run in to before giving it to Havertz. It was simple knock around football from Chelski and we were pulled apart far too easily. Holding, Mari and Chambers are simply not quick enough to recover from playing such a high line football and you can see why White has been bought; he replaced Holding at halftime and surely that is the move that gets made next week away to the Scum too. We also have to hope that Gabriel gets back quickly too, because I think Mari looked slower than usual and on a couple of occasions got too easily roasted by whoever he was one-on-one with.
Chelski cut us open on far too many occasions and if we were worried about giving Tuchel too much to think about to change his system against us, I think that worry has now been allayed, because surely we won’t apply the same tactics as we did yesterday with such a high press and line, with such slow defenders as Holding and Mari, will we?
If you’re going to look at the positive I think that Gabriel and White are the first choice pairing when both are fit and up to speed. White will be first and Gabriel might be a couple of weeks away, but for now it looks like we’ll have to just hope that Holding and Mari aren’t as tested against Brentford as they were yesterday. I have concerns about that though, because as Perry Groves said in the commentary, playing a newly promoted team right at the start of the season is probably the worst time to play them. They are up for it, it’ll be in front of their own fans, plus they’ll be riding the high of being promoted in the first place. If we were playing them 12 games in to the season it might be a totally different story. Plus they have players like Toney who have pace and the thought of us playing such a high defensive line with Holding and Mari as our central defenders against…well ANYONE in the Premier League actually…is a little bit worrying.
But not as worrying as our midfield. No Xhaka from the start meant Elneny playing and he gave the ball away in yet another friendly that nearly led to a goal in the first half. He’s just not very good, is he? Him starting this season, or banking any kind of minutes, would be a damning indictment of the failure of our football admin team to secure better players to play in the middle of the park this season. My hope is that we see Lokonga from the start next weekend, but my big worry is that we’re going to end up getting Elneny again. Giving the Egyptian 60 minutes yesterday is a worry because it suggests he’s going to play at the start of the season. I just hope Lokonga showed more in his 20+ minute cameo to show Arteta that a midfield of Xhaka and Elneny – if Partey is injured – is not something we should ever be considering. It lacks pace, it lacks physicality and whilst Xhaka’s pass distribution and range means he has a place and an argument for inclusion in the starting XI, Elneny certainly does not have that in any way, shape, or form.
That Partey injury was the biggest blow of the day though. He’s looked imperious in pre season and one of those players – along with Pepe (will come to him in a sec) – who you’d think might be the ones that really step up this season. But he trapped his ankle in a challenge and Arteta admitted afterwards that it ‘doesn’t look good’ so that is a big blow. We have to cross everything and hope that he is ok, but I think being Arsenal fans we all know he’ll probably need to have his leg amputated or something…
But let’s finish with the positives, as I mentioned at the top of the blog, which was at the sharp end of the pitch. Smith Rowe was good. He didn’t get on the ball as much as perhaps we and he would have liked, but when he did he was driving past players effortlessly and that’s a good sign. Auba was still getting in to good positions and although he really should have scored a header from yet another good cross on the left (Tavares and Tierney both appear to have that in their locker) in the second half, at least he’s getting those chances. He will take one eventually and then he’ll be up and running as usual.
Pepe too was once again excellent I thought and his pre season continues to go from strength to strength. Saka had that wide right position nailed at times last season but with the form Pepe is in it means none of us are talking about rushing him back for the first game of the season and rightly so; Pepe deserves to start and if he continues his form I think he’s going to add even more end product than he did last season.
There is plenty of work to do – both off the field in transfers and on the field in terms of set up, but this was a good exercise to see where we are at against a good Chelski team. Next weekend it is the Scum which will probably be another spicy game, but it will be perfect practice for Brentford the following Friday.
We’re nearly there folks. It can all start again soon and that is a good thing indeed.
Catch you all tomorrow.