Sunday, July 21, 2024

New-look Arsenal lose to (or lull?) Man Utd, plus WWC and Lego

Good morning from Berlin!

With Blogs across the pond and Andrew Allen (and Tim Stillman) joining him, it’s all a bit Kevin McCallister here. I’ll be here stretching my toes trying to fill those shoes this week. Let’s hope I don’t burn the house down.

There was a game last night and it’s one that will really separate those who think pre-season friendlies are meaningless and those who think they are meaningful. Naturally, had we beaten Manchester United at the MetLife Stadium it would have proven we’ll walk the league but the 2-0 defeat will actually lull Erik Ten Hag’s side into a false sense of security before we play them in the league in just seven weeks. Mikel Arteta is always one step ahead.

The game itself was, eh, not our best. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Jurrien Timber came in at the back, Declan Rice and Kai Havertz did the same in midfield, and Gabriel Jesus dropped to the bench with Eddie Nketiah playing through the middle.

United caused us problems by going long — perhaps something to look out for in September — but their goals still came from nothing, with Aaron Ramsdale struggling to get a strong hand to a shot from Bruno Fernandes and Gabriel fluffing his lines when he just had to clear them, allowing Jadon Sancho to race away from the halfway line and score. They felt like very pre-season goals to concede and there was a lack of efficiency at the other end too, with Gabriel Martinelli finding Tom Heaton with both parts of a double chance when the scores will still level.

Obviously the changes to the side will take a bit of adjustment and that shouldn’t be a surprise. With Timber inverting from right-back, the Odegaard-Saka dynamic on the right changes a little – the former dropping wider at times, the latter not being fed in the same way. There are tweaks to our shape against the ball too, with Havertz pushing up alongside the striker from the left of the midfield three, rather than Odegaard from the right. And behind all that you have Declan Rice, playing at the base of the midfield alone — unusual for him — with a new style to get to grips with.

Mikel Arteta said as much after the game when he was asked about the new-look midfield:

“When they play 55 times together they will be better. It will flow better, they will understand each other better and will be more dominant and better. But it takes time to glide and we have to respect that. But I saw a lot of positive things, and things I like much more than the game we won the other day against the MLS (all-stars) even though the result is very different.”

With Granit Xhaka gone and Declan Rice in for a record fee, it feels obvious that the majority of the season will have two thirds of a new midfield, with Havertz competing with Leandro Trossard and Emile Smith Rowe (who gave an encouraging cameo in New Jersey) in what was Xhaka’s spot last season. The midfield is evolving and that won’t happen overnight … it just also can’t take 55 games. So if you can speed that up, Mikel, that would be lovely.

Obviously the performance and the result isn’t what anybody wanted but I really hope the fans on the East Coast have had a fantastic time, it’s definitely looked like one from afar. I was lucky enough to catch a game (the 3-2 win over Liverpool) at O’Hanlons in New York City last season and it a fantastic place to watch an Arsenal match and I’m sure the whole place has been buzzing all week.

Our next game is against Barcelona all the way over in LA on Wednesday night (or the early hours of Thursday for those of us east of the Atlantic) but only if they can shake off the bug that saw their match against Juventus called off. Time for Xavi and co. to lay off the lasagne. Hopefully that game does go ahead and there’s a more entertaining performance to write about.

If you want to listen to some chat on last night’s game, you can head to Patreon to find an Instant Reaction pod Blogs and Elliot recorded at the stadium.

In Women’s World Cup news, Arsenal’s Alessia Russo (England) and Kathrine Kuhl (Denmark) got off to winning starts on Saturday and I have just watched new signing Amanda Ilestedt score the winner for Sweden against South Africa late on. That’s the second Arsenal goal of the tournament after Steph Catley’s penalty against Ireland. Stina Blackstenius also started for Sweden and Victoria Pelova starts as the Netherlands kick their campaign off against Portugal.

Lastly, I’ll be using my week here to publicly shame myself into some proactivity. You see, it’s almost two months since I started putting together an Arsenal-branded not-actually-Lego Highbury given to me as a gift and it’s about time I finished it.

So I figured promising a daily update on my progress here would embarrass me into action. Obviously, I’m now going to put off adding to it by spending my afternoon watching either Oppenheimer or Barbie instead.

Until tomorrow!

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