What we can take from Arsenal's opening Pre-Season Game
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
We've got our Arsenal back.
Pre-season games are never classics, particularly the early fixtures. Pedestrian passing, slow build-up and a lack of cohesiveness are to be expected in friendlies that are essentially designed to get the players up to full fitness and to begin to work on some tactical elements of your system. The results shouldn't really be focused on too meticulously. That said, there was the inevitable outcry from the Arsenal fanbase, with 'Arteta Out' trending on Twitter just minutes after the full-time whistle. Mental.
As pre-season friendlies go, this was a relatively well fought and intense one, played at a good pace. Despite the defeat, Arsenal controlled the game, dominating for the entirety of the 90 minutes, and looked genuinely quite effective in the second half offensively. Of course, as I alluded to previously, it's pre-season, so we can't look into it too stringently. However, there are some things we can take from it.
We probably need to start selling some Players
A host of players who are expected to depart the club this summer were involved at Easter Road yesterday. The likes of Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Willian, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Sead Kolasinac all featured, and probably reinforced their need to go. None of them made a dramatic impact that would potentially spark a rethink on their destiny, but then again, that was quite unlikely considering the context of this game. Every single one of them just sort of demonstrated exactly what we already know of them.
The striking note about their involvement was not that none of them pulled up any trees, but their involvement itself. Ideally in your pre-season, the coach would be working with the squad he believes he'll be working with for the the upcoming season. Utilising deadwood that is inevitably on the way out seems somewhat redundant, with drilling tactical instructions into them being somewhat pointless. You want to begin to mould your team and your tactics into what it will look like when the competitive fixtures commence.
Of course, Arteta was to some extent forced into using some of these players. With a host of squad members having not yet returned from holiday after involvements in international tournaments and with a lack of incoming players to pick from, there weren't many options that didn't involve using the majority of these players we might want to get rid of. However, the fact that almost half the cohort of players that got minutes are not wanted suggests we ought to speed up our outgoing business.
Thomas Partey is absolutely essential
Something I think we knew prior to this game, but just became more stark yesterday, particularly as we saw an Arsenal side without Granit Xhaka. Arteta opted for a double pivot of Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the first half, and perhaps inevitably, this resulted in our ability to progress the ball through midfield quickly being rather non-existent.
We've become accustomed to Elneny's ponderous and unadventurous passing over the years and that was once again on show yesterday evening. The Egyptian continually opted for the sideways and backwards passes, despite more progressive balls regularly being on. Maitland-Niles tried to progress the ball more often with some more incisive forward passes, but as I've suspected for some time with the Hale End graduate, he doesn't quite possess the passing ability to be deployed consistently in an Arsenal midfield. Of course, the lack of a number ten in front of this pivot who would readily be available to receive the ball exacerbated this issue, but it was an evident issue nonetheless.
Partey's half-time introduction was much needed. The Ghanian's superb passing range made an enormous impact on our ability to get the ball to our forward players more quickly, continuously finding line-breaking passes into the likes of Alex Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe. In a midfield that is about to lose one of its progressive passing machines in Granit Xhaka, Partey's presence is going to double in importance, and as we've seen in the past, he seems to relish this lone responsibility.
Arsenal still desperately need a creative midfielder
It's been well documented that Arsenal are on the hunt for a creative midfielder this summer, with the likes of James Maddison and Houssem Aouar being linked recently. However, there have been some suggestions from sections of the fanbase that we could make do and mend with what we have- a combination of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock covering this role.
For me, we absolutely have to recruit a creative midfielder this summer, and it should be the number one priority. Yesterday reinforced this to me. In our second half performance, as I emphasised when talking about Partey's influence, we progressed the ball very well, getting into the final third very effectively. However, once we got there, we were often limited to shots from outside the box or going wide and delivering. Whilst this led to a high volume of shots being taken, the quality of them wasn't great. We created few clear-cut chances in the second half that were a result of intricate build up play that entered the box.
Smith Rowe's off the ball movement is excellent, as shown in the goal and a chance he had earlier in the game from a Lacazette pass. He also excels at maintaining possession, popping up all over the pitch and keeping it ticking in forward areas. However, he hasn't quite unlocked his creative side as of yet; we rarely see him picking very intricate passes that lead to chances being created directly. His shot-creating actions per 90 of 2.72 puts him in the 31st percentile for this metric in Europe's top five leagues. This is an area of his game he can certainly develop, but it's unlikely he'll take it up several levels next season.
Arsenal desperately require more of an out and out creator to compliment Smith Rowe's qualities.
That's it for this piece. If you're seriously losing your head over this fixture then you're a fucking idiot. That's all I have to say on the matter.