For whatever it’s worth, we’ve a trophy in the bag. Without going hyper over a pre-season friendly tournament I’d like to note that we’ve won this tournament twice in the past and followed it with a commendable run in the League. Of course, there are those who deny that we put up a good fight last year (especially considering the injury problems) but that doesn’t change the fact that Arsenal were in the title race till April.
As always, there are some who will be happy with the positives and there are those who will focus on the negatives. In the last two days, Arsenal have given both sides enough to talk about.
I really enjoyed the first hour of the game against Celtic. Arsenal were camped in the opposition half for most of the period and could have scored half a dozen goals. The understanding between the players was quite good and it looked like a well synchronized team performance rather than a show dominated by a couple of stars.
The early goal helped. Arsenal were moving the ball quickly and the pressing was highly impressive as we recovered the ball almost at will. One such quick move saw Wilshere sliding the ball to Walcott who was clear on the edge of the box. I thought his touch took the ball away a bit and then he looked like he’d scuffed his shot. But Vela was alert and dived in at the back post to collect a tap-in.
I don’t know whether he meant it or not but the assist must have been good for Theo’s confidence. Similarly, the goal would have done the Mexican’s confidence no harm. I think we will need more from both these youngsters this season and they look like they are ready to deliver.
Arsenal continued to create some very good chances but some blocks, good keeping, and the bar kept us out. It was nice to see Vermaelen getting his striking boots on with a cracker from distance that was palmed away by the keeper. Wilshere’s impeccable technique was on display as he smashed a thunderous volley off the crossbar. The second goal arrived from another howitzer when Sagna belted a left footed drive that went straight through the keeper. On another day it might have been saved but I was happy that the Frenchman was willing to shoot and that too with his weaker foot. His technique is quite good and I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t do that more often, especially when we come up against a parked bus.
The second half started on the same note and we picked up the third five minutes in. Walcott made a good run down the right. For a moment he gave the impression that he won’t get his feet sorted but the youngster had the presence of mind to slide the ball to an onrushing Nasri who continued his high scoring form in pre-season.
Amongst the players, only JET looked a bit off-colour. Later Arsene said that the lad had been sick the previous day and that explains his lack of energy on the pitch. In defence, the Vermaelen-Djourou partnership was a little shaky but that is probably because they haven’t played together regularly.
Clichy and Sagna played well and looked like first choice players. I was impressed by the runs made by Clichy and his decision making was quite good as well. The French left back also made a brilliant tackle inside the box. In the middle, Frimpong and Wilshere continued with their good work while Rosicky was top class but a little casual at times. Even Almunia had a good game.
Celtic had threatened in the first half on a couple of occasions but poor finishing let them down. It continued when Samaras botched a penalty and I could almost sense that the Arsenal players thought the contest was well and truly over.
That was not the case and the game turned on its head after a few substitutions around the hour mark. Celtic found some confidence after Arsenal lost their shape. There were huge gaps all over the field and the visitors were able to maintain possession and build a few attacks. They got a lot of joy down the right and Gibbs will have to look at this game to see what went wrong. Obviously, Arshavin wasn’t really helping with his half-hearted efforts but Gibbs will have to live with that.
Celtic finally got on the score sheet from a set piece. The ball was played short and then rolled back outside the penalty area. A hopeful shot from distance cannoned off a couple of Arsenal players and fell kindly for the Celtic player a couple of yards from goal.
The Scottish side got a second when a simple ball down the right allowed their winger to get behind and deliver an easy cross. The striker arrived unmarked and duly obliged.
Once again our midfield was completely missing and the defence was really stretched. I guess Wilshere and Frimpong had played a lot of football by then and must’ve been really tired. Even then one does wonder why we cannot maintain the basic defensive shape and force the opposition to work hard for their goals. The second goal was a gift and it could have been worse if the keeper hadn’t done well.
If I’d been the manager I’d have asked Nasri, Wilshere, Walcott and Frimpong to play really close to the defence and practice defending with two banks of four. At least that way we’d have had some shape to the defending. Having these midfielders in no man’s land doesn’t help at either end of the pitch as the ball moves much faster than they can and they end up chasing shadows.
Despite the problems, the team held on for the win and that’s must be acknowledged. You could say these problems are going to repeat again or you could say winning while not playing well is the sign of a big team. It depends on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty.
I’d say this tournament was more positive than negative. We’ve some persistent, niggling problems that need to be worked upon but the youngsters have done well, newbies have shown they have the talent, and players like Walcott, Vela, and Nasri look like they can take their game to the next level.
When the manager says, “I’ve seen what I wanted to see”, it gives me great confidence. Arsene has openly acknowledged we didn’t do well at the end of both games so it’s safe to assume he will be working on it. Whether the answers are in the form of training, signings, or a combination of two will be seen in the coming days. So far, Wenger has given every indication that he is looking for players and I’m confident we will get one or two before the window closes.