I don’t envy Arsenal fans in the States all that often — I’m not much of a morning person and I deeply admire the commitment to watch games at hours that, frankly, should be outlawed — but there is something wonderful about starting your day with an Arsenal win.
In case anyone hasn’t seen the goals yet or wants to watch them again, Barcelona have uploaded them on YouTube:
Friendly or not, Thursday’s (I know it was Wednesday over in LA but it was Thursday already for this LA) win over Barcelona was plenty of fun once it got going. Kick-off was delayed by over half an hour — not so nice if you’re on this side of the Atlantic and set your alarm to take in the action — with some talk of the pitch not being up to scratch and at least one suggestion that the Arsenal team arrived late due to traffic. The latter, I guess that can happen, but let’s please play at venues with good pitches next summer. The two over in the US this week haven’t been up to scratch.
Anyway, we played well, we won convincingly, and and there’s now just two to go until the real stuff starts. Or one if you count the Community Shield (it’ll always be the Charity Shield to me) as real stuff. I figured for today I would just jot down a bunch of sentences about a bunch of thoughts I had as I watched the game and dawn broke here in Berlin. And this is what I was left with:
– Declan Rice wasn’t involved in this one with a slight calf strain. Let’s not forget he joined training later than everyone else and then played almost an hour against Manchester United at the weekend. I’m sure it was precautionary and hopefully we see him against Monaco next week but we do still have Thomas Partey — who started here — and Jorginho if we need to take things a little slow with Rice to begin with.
– Folarin Balogun also wasn’t involved. That was no surprise after he trained away from the rest of the group a few days ago and I don’t think many people expect him to still be with us a month from now. Perhaps things develop on that front when we arrive back home.
– Our fourth pre-season game without Oleksandr Zinchenko saw a third different player (Jurrien Timber this time) start at left-back. And Kieran Tierney hasn’t even been one of them. Mikel Arteta is obviously looking for his new Granit Xhaka-shaped emergency option. More seriously, I do wonder what Arteta is planning if Zinchenko is unavailable for the start of the season, as we should probably now assume will be the case. Tierney hasn’t started any of these games but is the only player to feature in all of them — is he not starting because he’s not considered an option or because we don’t need to learn more about him? It’s good to experiment in these fixtures and I thought Timber played pretty well. Whoever lines up at Wembley and then against Nottingham Forest is anyone’s guess with three players (Timber, Kiwior, Tomiyasu), plus Tierney and possibly even Zinchenko, all options for the manager.
– The main thing that stood out from the first half? Bukayo Saka was streets ahead of any other player on the pitch. He wasn’t even really at his best. But he is one of the most dangerous players on the planet and opposition teams know it. He doesn’t waste passes, he drives at defenders, he’ll cut inside or go outside. He tormented Barcelona down the right, he pushed us forward, he forced errors, he took his goal well. His reputation clearly goes beyond the Premier League now and we really should just enjoy the fact that one of the world’s most feared wingers is not just ours but is a Hale End boy too. Defenders back off, they look for support to outnumber him, and then he ends up in the box where they can’t put a challenge in anyway. It’s brilliant.
– Barcelona’s first goal was against the run of play and thus doesn’t really count.
– Barcelona’s second goal was heavily deflected and thus doesn’t really count. OK, so obviously these two points are nonsense, but we really did dominate and the goals don’t cause too much concern for me.
– Bukayo Saka is saving his good penalties for when it matters. That or we might not be that far away from a conversation about who takes our penalties. He pulled one wide — the opposite of that painful miss against West Ham — and I just hope these situations don’t play on his mind moving forward. He’s shown resilience on that front before.
– Let’s all laugh at Marcos Alonso, who is old and rubbish. Saka can push any defender around but it was delightful to see him leave the former Chelsea defender on his backside right before our second goal.
– Kai Havertz has great movement. He was the scorer of that second goal and I think he’s going to get a lot of joy out of the back post area. Unlike Xhaka in that position, his movement is instinctive. Watch is back and see how he sees Odegaard about to head the ball and just shuffles a step to his left for a potential rebound or for the ball to drop exactly where it did.
Havertz at the back post 🔥 pic.twitter.com/e98J9hNmMe
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 27, 2023
– Speaking of Havertz, our defensive shape was interesting, with the German alternating with Martin Odegaard. We more or less play a 4-3-3 with the ball, with three midfielders, but when pressing it’s more 4-4-2. Last season it was Odegaard joining the striker with Xhaka alongside Partey in midfield. Against Manchester United, it was Havertz pushing up and Odegaard hanging back alongside Rice. But against Barcelona we saw the pair taking it in turns, depending on where the ball was. Just something to keep an eye on.
– It was so good to see Emile Smith Rowe play a whole half of football in midfield and he looked really sharp physically. We’ve missed his ability to burst with the ball and accelerate play. It was interesting he played in midfield (replacing Havertz) when Trossard was on the pitch, given the Belgian has played in that role a few times this summer and Smith Rowe just as easily could have taken his place out wide. I guess the Englishman is seen predominantly as a number eight now?
– Gabriel Jesus continues to be brilliant if a little frustrating in the box at times. His close control is exceptional, he battles with defenders who look twice his size. Those two things allow us to go long and that’s where the third goal came from.
– The two Leandro Trossard two goals summed up some of his talents really well. The first: he’s both-footed, has a low centre of gravity and little backlift. All that means he can get shots away really, really quickly and he’s so accurate with them too. He really reminds me of Andrey Arshavin at times.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 27, 2023
The second goal shows his reactions — something you see when he’s dribbling and he momentarily almost loses the ball — are just razor sharp. And this one’s with his right foot.
Terrific Trossard 🤩 pic.twitter.com/HTzTM5ZFBm
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 27, 2023
– It was nice to see Amario Cozier-Duberry and you wonder if he’ll play any part this season. It isn’t an accident he’s on the tour — Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis-Skelly weren’t taken, these places aren’t handed out and nobody is invited to make up the numbers (at least not outfield) — so I’m curious to see if he has any kind of role to play in the cups.
– Fabio Vieira can wallop a football. Obviously he frustrated at times last season but he’s never had much of a run of games and he is clearly incredibly technically gifted. There’s something there. Maybe we never really get it out of him consistently, maybe we do, I’m happy to wait a little longer to find out.
And one more thought from after the game: Xavi should shut up. Barcelona were physical, the game was intense, and it got a bit heated between the two managers. The Barcelona boss said this about it:
“I said to Mikel at the end of the game that it means a Champions League game because the intensity that they put was not normal in a friendly. But I understand everybody wants to win.”
Barcelona gave at least as good as they got. Get a grip.
Elsewhere, Manchester United (who don’t play friendlies, remember) lost a second game in as many days, following up defeat to Wrexham with a defeat to Real Madrid. Chelsea and Newcastle drew, so nobody goes home too happy from that one. All in all, a fine evening of results across the pond.
It’d be remiss of me not to mention Katie McCabe’s incredible (and historic) goal from Wednesday. She scored directly from a corner (and clearly meant it) in Ireland’s 2-1 defeat to Canada. It was the first Women’s World Cup goal Ireland have ever scored and though the Girls in Green are now knocked out with one group game remaining, McCabe will, unless something bizarre happens, at least have the consolation of winning Goal of the Tournament. There was also an assist for Victoria Pelova this morning as the Netherlands drew 1-1 with the USA. Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord will be in action for Australia later today.
Finally, I had a few questions yesterday about the non-update on the not-Lego Highbury. As Arsene would say: “Look, erm…”
As you can probably guess, little progress has been made. To make matters worse, I’m heading to IKEA tomorrow and will return with a bunch of much bigger things that I actually have to build, so who knows when Highbury will have a roof? Or maybe I’ll finally get around to it so I can put off the flatpack furniture. Have a great day all, I’ll be back tomorrow.