Yesterday saw the return of the Emirates Cup after a years absence to accommodate the Olympics, due to the pessimism amongst fans this was seen as a cop out, because:
A) they know no one will turn up
B) we can’t even win our own pre season tournament anymore
C) some other conspiracy theory
Anyway the club has re introduced the tournament this season and it was our first chance to look at the progress of the team and more importantly for me the progress of the youth team against slightly more robust opposition than the Indonesian Dream Team.
The Emirates Cup has introduced us to many of our youngsters in the past, having watched Jack conduct the FA Youth Cup final the following season he was electrifying those watching at the Emirates Cup, capping it with a wrong foot (hit with his left peg on the right side of the goal and the ball coming from his left) half volleyed goal.
Yesterday we got to see more of Serge Gnabry while the highly rated Gedion Zelalem sat waiting on the bench alongside Chuba Akpom.
Joining Gnabry on the right flank was the eager Jenkinson, playing alongside the more experienced Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs in front of Fabianski. In midfield the untested combination of Wilshere and Ramsey as the two deeper players with Rosicky in front. Podolski and Giroud completed the line up.
To be honest we started very slowly, either heavy legged from our trips to Asia or had it too easy whilst in Asia and therefore not ready for the sterner test provided by Napoli.
It has been known for some time that we are susceptible to counter attacks as we commit too many men forward, Napoli are probably the best European exponents of counterattacking football, they defend in numbers as all good Italian teams do, but they are very quick on the break, and know how to use the ball in those situations.
Having said that the first goal went to Napoli but not from a counter attack, we were pretty well set Jenkinson showed his inexperience by following his runner beyond the defensive line this gave the Napoli defender with the ball the opportunity to lift the ball over the rest of the defence and create a 50:50 between Jenkinson and the winger, Jenkinson won the header but the contact was unconvincing, Fabianski realised the danger too late and was not out quickly enough to collect whilst airborne leaving the young Napoli winger the relatively simple task of tapping home for the goal. Most goals are a result of a series of errors, the first one is most crucial, and the first error was not pressuring the defender with the ball, which was then compounded by the following errors and misjudgements.
The second goal conceded was more like what we are used to, too many men committed forward, Mertesacker’s man appeared to have him beat for pace but that said he was heading wide of goal and we had enough numbers tracking back, however Fabianski made it so much easier for Napoli by coming off his line which then forced other defenders to back away. I hope in a PL game we would have seen a little more commitment to blocking the shot but in a pre season friendly unnecessary risks such as throwing yourself full length at a shot should not be taken for fear of injury.
Arsenal struggled to find a shape that worked and Wilshere and Ramsey struggled to find a way to control the midfield they are both still too young to do it together. Although in time with guidance they showed enough understanding and ball movement to feel that they could become quite a force together….however they are both still learning the ropes when it comes to experienced opponents.
Gnabry failed to offer the required width on the right and most of our good work came from Gibbs and Podolski linking on the left, unfortunately their crosses did not result in meaningful shooting opportunities.
Gibbs did win a very soft penalty only for Podolski to use his left foot hammer as a feather duster and tickle the ball harmlessly at Reina.
We created other opportunities but a combination of the linesman, errant shooting and altruism (Podolski) we went in 2-0 down to unfortunately a few boos from the Emirates crowd.
One of those missed opportunities was perhaps indicative of why we were two goals down, Jack lifting a ball from the edge of the area to Ramsey in an offside position. Whilst the bit of play between the two was good, one has to question who they were expecting to be providing cover if the attack broke down.
The other problem in our attacks as well as a lack of width was the fact that all our attacking players appeared to be bunched on their eighteen yard box when attacking, so there was only one passing option and it was very congested, we had no depth to our attack.
From the start of the second half we appeared to have a better shape. Soon the substitutions were made, Jenkinson and Gnabry off, Sagna and Theo on. Later came the more telling substitution, Ramsey and Wilshere replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arteta. Immediately our shape seemed better, we retained possession in their half better and were not as susceptible to counter attacks. With a more solid presence in midfield in Arteta, Mertesacker and Koscielny began to make lighter work of dealing with Napoli attacks.
Rosicky was still the man providing most inspiration going forward, helped by Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the outlet Sagna and Theo provided.
The start of the comeback came from a corner, Theo floated the ball onto the penalty spot, Giroud held off his marker and performed a bicycle kick which was heading wide, but clipped Bacary Sagna and went in the bottom corner.
We were pretty much camped in their half for the remainder of the game, but without providing the finishing touch to equalise.
It eventually came from a free kick in the final third, Arteta put a great delivery into the box which Mertesacker rose to meet, Reina could only party the ball upwards and Koscielny was first to react and raced to bundle the ball in at the far post.
As pre season friendlies go I think it was a very helpful game, some harsh lessons learned for the younger players in the squad, and a step up in quality opposition with only two weeks to go to the season opener.
For me the standout performer was Koscielny, the way he dealt with Higuain you would think that he had a personal vendetta against him. It’s almost like he couldn’t let the Emirates crowd see what they might be missing out on so he wouldn’t give them a sniff.
Arteta showed once again why he is so crucial to our chances of competing, the knowledge and calmness his presence brings to the side are invaluable. Rosicky continued from where he left off at the end of last season, as did Ramsey, although the latter was hampered by being partnered with Wilshere.
Jack will prevent a real problem this season, the English media will be happy to see him rested, the Arsenal crowd will want him to play, Jack himself will be desperate to make up for lost time. For me he is about moving with the ball from somewhere in the opponents half and attacking from there, but with Santi and Rosicky in the squad is that where he can be used?
All in all more questions than answers yesterday, lets hope for a few more answers today.
Written by Gooner in Exile