Arsenal Pre-Season Draws To An End
Arsenal finished off their Far East pre-season tour with a 2-2 draw against Kitchee in Hong Kong. It was an entertaining affair, the home team giving as good as they got in the first half with Arsenal asserting dominance in the second period.
Considering it came so soon after the Man City game in Beijing on Friday, the match was played at a good tempo. In the first half both wide players Miyaichi and Walcott looked dangerous, especially Theo who looked really lively and willing to run at defenders every time he picked up the ball. His pace posed a constant threat to Kitchee and Walcott capped off a good first half performance by slotting home Arsenal’s first goal after 22 minutes.
Of course the Englishman’s strike was sandwiched between two goals by the home team. Both were a result of poor defending by Arsenal. Again. Without trying to make too much of a pre-season game, it’s hard not to comment on the Gunners’ difficulties at the back. It’s not with an intention of being negative – simply pointing out the obvious.
The first goal came as a result of a mistake by Ignasi Miquel, his short pass for Diaby cut out easily. The Spaniard then compounded the error by getting his feet tangled up, allowing Yago to slip by and score the opener. The second was poor defending by the entire back four – Djourou’s mis-timed lunge opened up the opportunity, Gibbs failed to track two players who had drifted into the penalty area on the left side, Miquel and Eastmond were both drawn to the ball while Djourou was too slow to recover and close down the eventual goal-scorer Losado.
A major concern is that the problems are not confined to one aspect of our defensive play. A couple of years ago, we had difficulties in dealing with corners and set pieces. Last season, that was put right and Arsenal looked much more comfortable in defending those situations. At present, we are finding new ways to concede goals in just about every match. Sometimes the full backs are caught up the field without cover, at other times the midfield does not track runners. Sometimes it’s Vermaelen getting caught in no man’s land, at other times it’s Miquel unable to sort his feet out.
Arsene Wenger alluded to our frailties in the post-match interview:
I think defensively we looked fragile, especially in the first half. In the second half not so much because we were not challenged. Defensively we have a lot of work to do as a unit to do much better.
I played all of the defenders during this tour to see who is ready and who is not. We have Sagna, Koscielny and Mertesacker at home – three experienced defenders.
While there is no doubt the above named trio is more formidable than the Miquel-Bartley-Jenkinson combine, it must be a worry for the manager that defensive mistakes are occurring all over the pitch and from a number of players. Some thought has surely gone into correcting those deficiencies already and I suspect more work will be done once the team is back at the training ground.
On the positive side, Gervinho looked the part in the second half. I have always felt the Ivorian can be a more dangerous player than Nasri because of his directness – if he can only exercise better judgement and execution with his final ball. Gervinho can have a positive impact on our campaign this season but with so much competition in the wide areas, he needs to start delivering yesterday’s second half performance more consistently to retain his place in the starting line-up.
Thomas Eisfeld scored Arsenal’s second from Gervinho’s brilliant work down the left. I have been excited by the prospect of seeing him play, he brings German efficiency and calmness to the game. He also has the knack of timing his runs into the box perfectly, as shown by both his goals on this tour. From the youngsters, it’s Eisfeld who seems to have impressed the most on this tour and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to play a part in the first team this season.
With regards to senior players, Alex Song and Mikel Arteta looked stronger with each passing game. And while Abou Diaby was not hugely impressive in this match, his rehabilitation has certainly gone well on this tour. With two more weeks of training to come before our last pre-season game against Cologne, all these players will only get stronger from here on.
Among the younger players, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once again showed glimpses of his immense potential. Still, the youngster is not able to deliver a consistent enough performance to warrant a regular start and I expect he’ll continue as a super-sub for the time being. Although Ryo Miyaichi looked good in yesterday’s game, the Japanese teenager is not ready for the big time yet and another loan spell is surely in the offing. Francis Coquelin versatility will certainly see him play a role in the first team while Chuks Aneke and Benik Afobe should get their chances in cup competitions.
More tomorrow. Until then.