Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Gunners pre-season
What does Arsene Wenger still need to address before the season begins?
5-1 against Benfica isn’t reflective of where this Arsenal side is
Yaya Sanogo scores four goals to destroy the Portuguese champions and Europa League finalists. Who’d have thought? The win may have been a morale boost throughout the red half of North London, but let’s not get carried away here. Benfica looked like they had no interest in the Emirates Cup in both matches they participated in, and although the performance was certainly pleasing, Arsenal can’t expect to be tapping in four goals in less than half an hour every week. After the win the Gunners were being mentioned at title contenders. They are, but a glance at the swing in broadcaster BT Sport’s match-day poll of whether Arsenal can challenge for the crown shows just how a pre-season win can alter peoples thinking.
Even next week’s showdown with Manchester City at Wembley will be a much, much stiffer test, although it will give Arsene Wenger a chance to field his strongest side currently available before beginning the league campaign against Crystal Palace six days later. It won’t be until the late evening of 16 August that we’ll have a true reflection of where Arsenal stand going into the season, when the Eagles will be leaving the Emirates.
The squad is going to take time to gel together
The mind can’t help but wonder back to this time last year, when Arsenal smashed their club record transfer fee to land £42.5m signing Mesut Özil. Adding Alexis Sanchez this season is certainly a popular move among the Arsenal faithful, but he has to be given a chance to find his legs at the club and not be burdened with the expectation that he can with the title on his own.
With their German World Cup-winning contingent yet to return to the club – Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Özil are not due back until the Monday after next week’s Community Shield – Wenger has to prepare a squad that is yet to train with at least to first choice players this season. Theo Walcott remains another absentee having not featured since the FA Cup victory over Tottenham where he suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament, while the team are no longer with one of their ‘veteran’ defenders in Bacary Sagna – given the aging term solely based on the young age of this side.
At £16m Calum Chambers is a shrewd signing
On the basis of the Emirates Cup, Chambers has settled into the side very well. Sold for around half the price of his former Southampton colleague Luke Shaw, the Gunners look to have secured the services of a very promising and versatile defender, and along with Shaw and John Stones of Everton looks to figure very prominently in England’s future. Arsene Wenger appears likely to deploy him in the right centre-back role rather than his natural position at full-back, given he stared both matches – one of only two players to do so - in the middle of the defence.
While his versatility could hamper him in the long-term in terms of securing a regular spot, it will likely see him feature much more regularly them some may have thought when Arsenal announced the signing of the 19-year-old. If he can take to his Arsenal career as well as he took to the Emirates Cup, then it could be a very prosperous road ahead.
How do you fit Sanchez, Walcott, Özil and Giroud into the same side?
Sanchez started the match on the right, and showed on regular occasion just how threatening his speed and physicality can be to opposition defences. Yet when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced at the break in place of Olivier Giroud, Sanchez switched to play through the middle as Arsenal altered their style and kept the ball on the surface rather than the long ball approach used with Giroud. The two players are as close as you’ll get to chalk and cheese, and it could prove difficult for Wenger to fit them both in the side.
It shouldn’t prove a problem early in the season, as the absence of Walcott will require Sanchez to make the right flank his own, but once the England flyer returns it all starts to get a bit tricky. Walcott’s pace is enough to see him in the starting line-up alone, meaning Sanchez can either take up a position on the left or through the middle, at the expense of Giroud. With Özil, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all making strong cases to start, one will inevitably miss out. Giroud will be hoping that his withdrawal at half-time against Monaco is not a sign of things to come.
Wenger still needs a World Class holding midfielder
Talk of a move for Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira looks to have fizzled out, but the problem area for Arsenal remains that holding role in the middle. The Gunners desperately need a player who can sit in front of the back four, getting forward when necessary, and controlling the side without giving away possession or making crucial mistakes. The current incumbent of the role, Mikel Arteta, simply isn’t on the same level as the other top midfielders in the league – the likes of Steven Gerrard,vYaya Toure and Nemanja Matic – and given that he’s not getting any younger at 32 years old, he could well do with being replaced.
Khedira may not be the man for Wenger, but he would certainly bring class to the side. He works his trade in almost a hybrid role between a box-to-box midfielder and an out-and-out defensive general. Until Wenger finds his next Patrick Vieira, Arsenal may see themselves falling short time and time again.
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