Pre-Season Review – Some positives but same old issues a worry

When it comes to pre-season games, there are two distinct camps.

Those that see every defeat or draw as a disaster and those that do not care about the results as it is “only pre-season”.

The early pre-season games can always be taken with a pinch of salt.

You never know where you are in your pre-season training in comparison to your opponents.

For example when we lost to Hibs, it was their 4th pre-season game and our 1st. They had been back in training for over a week before us due to the Scottish season starting a week earlier.

You also do not know what stage of training squads are at.

There are different intensities of training sessions. During the season you normally try and peak your fitness for the games, having lighter training sessions the day before to allow your body to taper. But friendlies are different.

Teams will be doing double sessions. Some will be high intensity. They might even do a full training session on the same day as a friendly.

It is all about doing what is needed to get ready for the new season.

In the later games, as you are closing in on the start of the season and playing other Premier League sides at the same level as you, more can be read into pre-season performances.

So whilst I am in the “it’s only pre-season” camp, it does not mean there are no positives and negatives that can be taken.

Positives

Albert Sambi Lokonga

Usually I am reluctant to get too excited about a young player after a handful of games, but Albert Sambi Lokonga looks the real deal.

He might only be 21-years-old, but he has played nearly 80 games for Anderlecht and was their captain last season. He looks like he has the capabilities to step up from the Belgium league to the Premier League.

He has power and strength, but is also good on the ball.

With Thomas Partey set to miss the first month of the season, expect Lokonga to be Granit Xhaka’s regular partner.

We have a good one here

Ben White

The other major signing this summer was Ben White.

What I have been impressed with is just how quickly he has got up to match fitness.

He had the Euros (where he did not play) then went on holiday. He only joined the squad for his first training session a couple of days before the Chelsea friendly.

With a little more than a weeks training under his belt, he was starting against Tottenham in the last pre-season game of the season and did not look off the pace.

There were a few errors in his partnership with Pablo Mari; but nothing not to be expected with 2 players that knew nothing about each other.

His performance against Tottenham was very good, and he will only improve as he gets more minutes under his belt.

Emile Smith Rowe

The Englishman continued where he left off last season, buzzing around and trying to make things happen.

In a front 4 that contained 3 £50million+ transfers, it is the academy graduate that looked the best.

His hunger and desire is not matched by anyone else.

Any new creative midfielder that joins Arsenal will not automatically walk into the team. For now the shirt is Smith Rowe’s.

Negatives

Hector Bellerin

It says a lot about Bellerin that he is open to leaving Arsenal, Arsenal are open to selling him, but so far no team has come in for him.

Bellerin has been a fantastic player for the club, and is an even better person. But it is clear his time at Arsenal has come to an end.

He has not been the same player since his ACL injury, and it might be that due to that injury his “time” as a elite footballer is over. That no Champions League club will be in for him and he perhaps needs to look a little lower down the leagues for future game time.

Bellerin is a great person and does not deserve the subtle homophobic abuse he gets from some of our fan base (we know the comments).

His performances in pre-season have shown just why his time at Arsenal needs to be over.

With 2-years left on his contract, I would not be surprised to see him go out on loan a couple of times before leaving on a free.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

When the Aubameyang contract saga was going on I was concerned that we were going to invest heavily in a player whose best days were behind him.

Aubameyang had a tough season last year with his lowest goal return since 2010/11 playing for Saint-Étienne and Monaco.

He has looked disinterested at times and is not buying into Mikel Arteta’s “defend from the front” philosophy.

Is he just mentally done with football? No longer pushing himself? Or is he just on the wain as many strikers who relied heavily on pace would be at 32-years-old.

He has performed in pre-season the same way he finished last season. Poorly.

Creativity

The biggest problem last season was we just did not create enough chances. This contributed to Aubameyang’s goal return.

The Tottenham friendly was a mirror image of so many games last season.

Arsenal on top, dominating play, but not really creating anything of note.

With no attacking reinforcements, it is not a surprise that we have not moved forward.

There are still too many aimless crosses into the box to a striker that is not a target man. We are still playing Aubameyang out wide who is a finisher, not a creator. And the Nicolas Pepe / Bellerin access is still not firing on the right.

Hopefully we can get Maddison over the line this week – although it will be a deal too late for the Brentford game.

Maddison in the middle, Smith Rowe on the left coming inside and either Pepe or Bukayo Saka on the right. Aubameyang given a shot down the middle. That is how we need to go.

For now it is “do the same get the same” and that is not good enough.

Summary

Plenty to be excited about. Plenty of the same old issues.

I would imagine we will start against Brentford with the same XI that started against Tottenham.

Brentford are a lower level opposition so hopefully in that period we are on top we can create more.

With games against Chelsea and Manchester City following, we need that 3 points on the board from the first game of the season.

Keenos

1 thought on “Pre-Season Review – Some positives but same old issues a worry

  1. Dammy

    Excellent piece in structure and detail. I do however think a lot can be learned from preseason for both managers and fans. Losing in preseason is not a disaster, and a win is not a litmus test of how a competitive match between the same sides might play out. I try to watch every Arsenal game so my opinions are always based on what I have seen.

    For example, for the hype around Okonkwo, the howler for the Hibs goal was a schoolboy error – the type to make your manager question you. I take your point to preparation levels for preseason, but I am certain a preseason win builds confidence going into the next game, the same way it would in the season.

    The Rangers game was much better, and even though they were better prepared, I understand why now why they didn’t qualify for the UCL against Malmo.

    I only got to see highlights of the behind-closed-door games, and I like that Azeez took his goal well, ESR looked sharp and Lacazette scored. Auba continued to struggle for goals and Nuno looks a real decent buy as well as Sambi.

    The games against Chelsea and Spurs were more competitive and I am sure under different circumstances, we would have drawn or beaten Chelsea. The injury Partey has was from a poor tackle in the box, and the ref said no foul. And the world knows Willock scored, the line official had a day off… The starting 11 for both matches were probably our near strongest 11. Whether preseason or not, it was a pretty good indication of our preparations so far for this season and what to expect against the sides we want to pip to a better season-ending position. We surrendered more possession to both teams and Arteta’s work is clearly cut out for him both in that area, in creativity and attack, and in scoring goals. However, if we play as well as we did in those matches, then there are only a handful of sides that will finish above us.

    There are always positives and negatives to any preseason campaign. We remain defensively coherent with one or two individual errors that need ironing out. We have added depth to LB and CB and upgraded RCB. We still don’t have a midfield that will dominate against the top sides, and at the top end, our forwards aren’t bagging goals. The number of shots against Chelsea (14) and Spurs (11) tells me we need to create a bit more in that third, so I agree with you. 15 -20 chances to shoot (to score) per game will see our return increase by 10%-15% in my opinion (unless you are Werner or Maupay 🙂 ). ESR doesn’t need replacing, he needs support. It is a lot to put on his 21-year-old shoulders. One injury and we are back to our pre-December form. It is a fine thing to have depth… Brentford are actually a tough-tackling side, so the referee will be key to preventing injuries in Game 1

    We are going to have a good season, but we need to score more goals.

    Like

    Reply

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