So the two big talking points today then, are:
- The final televised friendly against the Scum that ended in a 1-0 defeat yesterday lunchtime
- The impending sale of Joe Willock
First, the game itself, which was the final one in the ‘Mind’ series. We found ourselves on the wrong end of the result and finished bottom of the ‘Mind Table’ having lost to Chelski and then yesterday being defeated to a Son goal. Hey, it’s a friendly, so there’s an element of ‘so what?’ about the result. But what most of us are looking for is the performance and whilst I could take some positives from the game, it felt to me as though there were as many negatives to draw too. Yes it’s a friendly, but you’re looking for signs that the team is evolving and when the big kick off happens next weekend they will be ready. But what we’ve seen so far feels very familiar. What I was hoping for yesterday was to see an impressive performance. The result doesn’t matter. If we’d have lost that game 2-o but battered that lot and they scored a dodgy pen and a scabby deflected goal, I’d have been far happier. And in the first half of the game – with what we hope is the team that starts next weekend (well, almost, but I’ll come to that) – I thought we did well. We had more possession, we created more chances, we looked like there was a bit of balanced about us but we just couldn’t find that final finishing touch. It happens. It’s been happening a lot all pre season, but it happens, whatever.
But it was that second half that worried me and that felt very familiar to last season i.e. we seem to be able to only turn it on for patches of matches. We can go a full 90 and dominate and that is the worry. By the end of the game Tottenham had edged it and in that second half they were slightly better than us. But that inability to be able to deliver consistent performances over the duration of the whole match is a hangover from last season and Arteta doesn’t seem to have been able to address that.
There was also concerns with some of the established player performances. Aubameyang out wide doesn’t work and I really hope – although I would not put a penny against it – that he doesn’t start next Friday against Brentford there. It doesn’t work, it is a pointless use of an expensive resource and on form right now, you have to play Lacazette and drop Auba to the bench. The Frenchman has looked hungry so far this pre season and if you’re going to talk about a meritocracy, you’re handing a starting shirt to Laca at this point. You’re also taken a starting shirt away from Mari, who I thought was poor yesterday and was shoddy for the goal they scored. Yes there were other mistakes, but he just looked ropey on a number of occasions and at this rate Gabriel won’t be too worried about losing his place in the side.
It’s also worrying that the line up was worryingly familiar to last season, but that is as a consequence of where we are at in terms of the lack of business done. We are not in a very good state in terms of squad improvements and that has to be on the football admin that we have simply not delivered on what we should have been aiming for in line with the beginning of the season. Yes the market is depressed, yes it is true that everyone except the financially doped teams are spending big cash, but I am not interested in anyone except Arsenal and my focus – having been told that this summer was a time to be ruthless – is on whether the club has done its business and given itself the best possible chance FROM THE START OF THE SEASON. Not September 1st. It’s fair to say they haven’t delivered on that front. As many of us feared.
But perhaps that will start to change now with the news coming through last night of Joe Willock joining Newcastle for a few in and around £25million. It’s a good fee for a player who wasn’t getting in to our first team and with whom we didn’t really have a spot that he was tailor made for. I had speculated that perhaps yesterday we give him a try in the middle of the three behind the striker, but he wasn’t in the match day squad and when Arteta would only say he would speak about Joe when he could, it was obvious to us all that the player was heading elsewhere.
I’m ok with that. We have a decent fee for an academy player. It is money that we have to hope is used to grease the wheel of transfers for Arsenal and as long as that money is driven straight to Sheffield to buy and average ‘keeper called Ramsdale, then I’m good with it, because we need to start shifting some of this big bloated squad. Willock was not on our preferred list of departures, but things don’t always work out exactly as you want them and if it means we get that cahs in now then I’m ok with it. There’s also apparently a sell on clause too, which is good, because if he plays regularly and bangs, Newcastle aren’t selling him for less than £40million+ and so if we’ve got a tidy 15-20% added on there then it’s money further down the line we could also benefit from.
Anyway, back to the game and to finish with the positives, which I thought was the three signings that got minutes yesterday. Ben White looked assured, won the ball well at the back, stepped out from defence and will be an asset to us. In midfield, I really like the look of Lokonga, like really. One of my biggest worries for the Brentford game was the possibility of a midfield containing Elneny and Xhaka in partnership. Xhaka is fine but the Egyptian is a hard no for me and between them it lacks any of the athleticism you need in the Premier League. Lokonga gave us the perfect example as to why he looks like the Partey understudy and was very good in the Ghanaian’s absence. Good range of passing, good interceptions, provides an outlet for the defenders to deliver balls to him to move and progress through the pitch. I am less concerned about Partey’s injury now than I was. We still have other worries ahead of the new season, but at least he is filling a gap.
And to finish off the musings for the day, it was also good to see Saka get a good reception from their fans, as well as get some minutes on the pitch. The quicker he comes back in to the side the better and hopefully these minutes will have done him good ahead of the season. We need him back as soon as possible and hopefully another week of training after this and he can be closer to starting.
That’s it from me for today. Have a happy Monday and I’ll see thee in the morrow.