Unai Emery’s unbeaten start at Arsenal continues

With a little over a week to go before the start of the 2018/19 Premier League season, Arsenal face a good test against Chelsea – the side they face 2nd game up in two weeks time.

Arsenal put out the stronger XI, with just Bern Leno, Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey missing. Chelsea were without the likes of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, N’Golo Kante, Willian and Olivier Giroud.

Arsenal went 1-0 down to a 5th minute corner.

Unai Emery has changed defensive systems – from zonal to man marking. Both systems have their relative strengths and weaknesses, and yesterday we saw the weakness with man marking.

Emile Smith Rowe was a late replacement for Aaron Ramsey – who withdrew 5 minutes before kick off. Antonio Rudiger was “his man”.

Having been told he was playing just a couple minutes before kick off, 18-year old Smith Rowe would have simply been told to pick up Ramsey’s man – Rudiger. Chelsea exposed the miss match as the German’s greater experience, height and strength saw him easily lose the young defender before an excellent header into the bottom corner.

Having grown up at Arsenal – where the same system & tactics is used up and the youth teams – I would be surprised if Smith Rowe has ever had to man mark someone. Should Emery have shuffled who is picking up who when Ramsey hobbled off? Perhaps. But he literally had a couple of minutes between the injury and the players heading back out into the pitch to start the game.

You can not expect Unai Emery to change things defensively overnight, and the side will have to keep working on man marking.

The defence was a concern, as Chelsea continually exposed Arsenal’s high line with the excellent Callum Hudson-Odoi finding a lot of space behind Hector Bellerin. Hudson-Odoi set for a brilliant career on loan at Norwich, Hull City and Vitesse.

The performances of both Bellerin and Saed Kolasinac is a worry.

Yes, it was only pre-season, but both look poor defensively, with Chelsea getting a lot of joy in behind them. If Arsenal are going to play with Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the inside-widemen, Bellerin and Kolasinac will not get too much cover. Both need to improve and quickly.

It was the high line that Chelsea exploited time and again – something many teams have exploited in the last few years.

To play a high line you need a keep comfortable standing on the edge of the box, acting as a sweeper. Petr Cech is not comfortable there, preferring to stick to his line. That then creates too much for someone like Cesc Fabregas to play the ball in and Hudson-Odoi to run on to.

Arsenal went into half time 1-0 down. It should have been two had Alvaro Morata not had his penalty saved by Cech. It could have been 3 or with the clean cut chances Chelsea had.

Chelsea just looked sharper. Their passing neater, winning every 50/50, quicker to every second ball.

Arsenal did not look at full pace, they lack both physical and mental sharpness. Has Emery’s tough regime caught up on the players? I expect us to taper the sessions off as the season approaches.

Another factor is jet lag.

It has to be remember Arsenal have just spent a week in Singapore. They would have only landed back in the UK on Sunday afternoon, trained on Monday before flying out to Dublin on Tuesday. It would have been draining and looked like it took its toll mentally.

In the second half Arsenal did look sharper. They looked more settled at the back and created chances going forward, and we well deserved the last minute equaliser by Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman showing his natural goal scoring instincts being in the right place for a tap in.

Some excellent penalties saw Arsenal “win” the game.

Despite it being a fairly average pre-season showing, there were some solid performances. Most notably from Matteo Guendouzi who continued his fine form. It is incredible to think he is still just 19.

Despite being at fault for the corner, Emile Smith Rowe also had a good game. He didn’t look out of place, created some chances and was busy. The Europa League will be an exciting competition for him next year.

It is a concern that Aaron Ramsey went off injured again.

The Welshman has played over 30 league games just once in 5 years; and last year appeared in just 22 games. It is his injuries that is probably stopping the club giving him exactly what he wants.

As he looks to start the new season injured again, what will that mean for his future, his new contract?

Kolasinac leaving the ground on crutches is also a concern.

He had his injury problems at Schalke and they have continued at Arsenal. In Nacho Monreal, we have a top left back ready to step in, but at 32 years old and with 1 year left on his contract, this season will probably be the Spaniards last. A new left back will probably be on a scrap of paper in Sven Mislintat’s handbag.

Bellerin is also a concern, and you have to wonder how many chances he will be given before Emery takes him out for the experienced Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Overall the International Championship Cup has provided some tough tests for Arsenal as we faced Atlético Madrid, PSG and Chelsea.

Unbeaten so far, it is off to Stockholm next to face Lazio on Saturday. After which it will be straight back to England for a weeks training in British Summer Time before the first game of the season against Manchester City on Sunday.

In between Lazio and Manchester City we have the small matter of the transfer window closing.

I am off to Suffolk for a long weekend so will probably miss the game v Lazio, so see you on the other side.


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