The boys are back
Good old football is properly back. It may have only been a friendly against a Malaysian XI but it was definitely something to get excited about. Sure, international football is good to quench the thirst, but these days it just doesn’t compare to the club game.
All in all, it was a satisfactory afternoon for Arsenal fans. A victory, casually pinched from the gums of defeat, prevented any (major) negativity, Abou Diaby came through unscathed, and we got a good glimpse of Thomas Eisfeld, who scored the equaliser. Plus the new away kit looked pretty snazzy.
It’s probably not wise to look into pre-season games too much in terms of tactics or performance, but there are usually signs to observe. We continue to zonal mark from set pieces and, of course, in open play, but as well as that the midfield structure seemed largely the same. A deep sitter, a regista and an advanced playmaker, all with license to roam – a bit of a higgledy-piggledy triangle.
The formation was pretty similar to the 4-3-3 of last season – the midfield was the only area likely to evolve – but an interesting selection was made with Andre Santos starting in front of Kieran Gibbs in the left-wing position. We saw this last season in the second halves of games versus West Brom and Chelsea late in the campaign, and also during the Marcus Liebherr Memorial tournament. It’s a useful option as Santos can provide extra protection on the flanks – either one as he showcased with his roaming onto the right-hand side.
Indeed, Santos played in a similar advanced role fairly often at Fenerbahce, and as many have noted it’s his attacking that is his strong point – although his defending is frequently underrated. He found himself clean through twice, and although his finishing wasn’t quite right on either occasion, it was nice to see him find such good opportunities.
Another player who had the awareness to get chances but not the composure to take them was Benik Afobe. The English youngster – one of seven who played in the second half, if you count Walcott as a youngster – carved out a number of good opportunities for himself with his intelligent movement, but missed each time. The promising thing is that he made the chances though – he can, and will, improve his finishing in time.
Nico Yennaris, another of the young Englishmen on in the second half, had an impressive game, and latched onto second-half captain Alex Song’s inch-perfect through-ball to cut it back for Tommy Eisfeld to finish coolly. Eisfeld didn’t get much time but certainly left his mark with the calmly-taken equaliser. He did well to find the space in the box, and his shot was technically good, stroked with the instep – although here we stray into the pre-season realms of over-analysis.
The winner was grabbed by Chuks Aneke, a third home-grown starlet, and there isn’t much to say about that goal, especially as I’ve not had the benefit of replays from 16 different angles (it can’t be long before they introduce POV replays of goals). It was good to see the youngsters the ones on the score-sheet, although various negative Nellies will twist that into anger at the ‘misfirings of first-team players’. And by ‘negative Nellies’ I mean Stewart Robson.
Speaking of mis-firing first-team players, let’s talk about Marouane Chamakh. A bit of a harsh segway, but let’s face it, he’s not been on his game for a while. There was, in fairness, a brief spell at the end of last season where he looked to have re-ignited though, and that smattering of form has extended to pre-season; he looked lively and sharp, leading the attack well despite no tangible contribution.
It seems that the infallibility of Robin van Persie last season, and in Chamakh’s first season, damaged the Moroccan. Wenger was so reluctant to withdraw the Dutchman – or go for a 4-4-2 – that Chamakh only received token appearances, and this sapped his confidence, which of course affected his form. Only once he received a run in the side, even though it was only through consistent substitute appearances, his form improved.
Sadly a number of Arsenal players often suffer from a lack of confidence – Johan Djourou, Lukasz Fabianski and Theo Walcott are others – and it’s fairly contradictory to Arsene Wenger’s claims of mental strength through-out his side. Perhaps the side needs a better father-figure on the pitch than Robin van Persie, who recently showed his true colours with a brutal statement.
Thomas Vermaelen was captain for the day, and will skipper the side through-out the tour of Asia. For me, when an attacker is captain, especially a talismanic one, his team-mates will often look to him for inspiration, rather than taking responsibility themselves. This was demonstrated in Thierry Henry’s final season at Arsenal, and also recently with Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. When Henry left many Arsenal players were liberated, while Liverpool were better without Gerrard than with him last season.
Perhaps a leader from the back rather than the front will help Arsenal – the season we came closest to the title and looked most united while doing so was 2007/08 – William Gallas was captain then, and since our trophy drought began he’s been the only defender to wear the armband. It’s clutching at straws, but perhaps it’s something.
Now that football is back I’ve got a number of topics ready to write about, so look out for a piece on Abou Diaby fairly soon… until then.