By the time the first half was over I was regretting my decision to wake up at six on a Saturday morning after crashing at two in the night. Arsene picked the same starting eleven that ended the game in Malaysia and their performance was just as erratic and listless as we saw in the previous game.
While there were some moments of individual quality the half will stay in my memory as one where the defence struggled against modest opposition, no offence intended.
Granted this is pre-season and we should not read too much into the performances or the results. Many top teams lose such games on a regular basis. This season Liverpool have conceded 3 goals in both their games in Asia and the Tiny Totts just lost in South Africa. These things happen. Moreover, Greentown are already a few weeks into their season so their fitness levels were much better than the Gunners.
Despite that, there was something eerily familiar with the way Arsenal struggled. Some people might blame the defenders but I thought the problems stemmed from the lack of balance in front of them. It does not absolve the defenders completely but they do deserve better support. Nasri and Rosicky hardly contributed to the defence as one would expect from midfielders in the modern game, we all know Arshavin fairly well, and Vela almost mirrored him on the right flank.
I have mentioned this in the past on a number of occasions – the defence struggles whenever the team fails to impose its style of play (that is not the only reason the defence struggles but it is one of the primary ones). The opposition finds a great deal of time and space when the passing game doesn’t work. Lack of pressing, poor positioning, and lethargic off-the-ball movement from the midfield and attackers made defending easy for the hosts while allowing the Greentown players the opportunity to pass the ball around and find their runners. This put the defence under pressure and even when a defender won the first header, it inevitably fell to an opposition player.
Clearly, this won’t be the case in most of the games that Arsenal will play this season but based on the evidence of recent seasons, I am worried it will happen often enough to cost crucial points and a Cup tie or two.
There were some positives as well. Nasri looked impressive on the ball. He was able to take players on and run past a couple at will. Van Persie had a few good moments and played a big part in creating the goal. Vela showed he has the anticipation and acceleration to be a threat in the box. Frimpong was strong and energetic.
The second half saw the introduction of the youthful starting line-up from the previous game. With Song and Wilshere marshalling the midfield and the young wingers pressing enthusiastically, Greentown were pinned in their own half for most of the second period. The hosts rarely threatened the Arsenal defence as the work done in front of them offered genuine protection.
But for some saves/blocks and a couple of missed opportunities by Theo this game could have been a comfortable win.
With this Arsenal concluded a successful pre-season tour of Asia. I was impressed by the support and would like to applaud the fans in Malaysia and China. Hopefully, some Gooners who didn’t appreciate Johnny Foreigners might develop a better understanding of the level of passion in people who follow the club from afar.
I am not sure if this tour has achieved the same level of rigorous workout that the players used to get in Austria. Time will tell whether that will affect the performances in the opening weeks of the season or not. I certainly will be a bit more nervous about the Champions League qualifier than I have been in the past.
There is still time though. I think the performances in the Emirates Cup and the friendly with Benfica will give us a much better insight into the level and quality of preparations. By then we will also have seen new signing Gervinho in action along with any others that are bought.
An interesting month ahead.