Arsenal's last pre season game of the summer could have been described as the good, the bad and the ugly. You all know which bits go where but I shall elaborate anyway.
Playing against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City would be quite an exciting test to see where both teams were in terms of fitness, sharpness and quality. To be fair to Manchester City they are further behind us in terms of games tucked under their belts, their friendly against Manchester United was canceled due to a poor pitch or some such. Personally I think that game should have been played, not only that but Jose Mourinho's team should have trained hardcore on the pitch the night before without a warm down or warm up before the game. But that's just me I guess.
Anyway, I was pretty pumped about seeing what our line up would be because with a week to go, you would imagine that Arsène would put out as close to a starting 11 as possible. Most of the team is pretty easy to call but there are a few positions of interest before next weekend's opener.
The centre back pairing is one of the obvious and it was no surprise to see the experienced Gabriel start the game. new boy Rob Holding was the chosen one to partner the Brazilian. The midfield combination was also of much interest. It seems as if Arsène is looking to start Coquelin alongside Xhaka in the first game of the season. Without going back through the games, I think Coquelin has played whenever Xhaka has. Given that Xhaka is the deepest of the midfielders it leaves Coquelin in somewhat of a box to box role and I am not quite sure how much I like the idea of that.
Arsenal have been working on winning the ball higher up and also the speed of our transitions when we do win the ball. Maybe Arsène wants Coquelin higher up to win back possession but when we have the ball we definitely lose an option. Mohamed Elneny came on in the second half and I thought he was the best player on the pitch. He looks like one of those players who make his team mates better. Always available for a pass, plays the right option at the right time and does not stop running. So I hope he is the guy given the number 8 role against Liverpool.
Alexis Sanchez was given another go as our central striker, a position I have been hoping to see him given another bash at for a while now. The good news is that Alexis looks incredibly sharp given that it is his first pre season game. He linked up with the players around him very well, including an excellent chipped pass for Aaron Ramsey to head over when he really should have done better.
My issue with Alexis is that he drops far too deep and is constantly attracted to the ball. I wish he would leave that to his midfielders and full backs and focus on occupying the centre backs a little more. I think he has pretty much all the technical qualities to be a better striker than 95% of the strikers on the market but perhaps he does not have the mentality. I dunno, maybe it is just a question of adapting to the position. We may not even see Alexis in this role again so this may just be a waste of time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain chipped wide when put through on goal by Xhaka, he really should have scored and perhaps should have rounded the keeper and slotted into an empty net. It was the exact type of finish that I would try and miss when a simple side foot finish would have done the job when we play our Tuesday night football. So Ox, I totally get the urge to attempt the extravagant. Maybe in a league match, Ox would have taken the easier option.
Coquelin found himself in nose bleed territory when he couldn't beat the defenders on the line with a low shot after Arsenal had pressured City into a terrible defensive mistake.
The good news was that we looked sharp and dangerous, forcing City into mistakes and creating good chances, the bad came in the shape of our defending. Agüero scored the first goal of the game when Gabriel failed to stop a Sterling cross and Agüero ran off the back of Holding to score from close range.
City went into the break a goal up while we had spurned a host of good chances, it is a situation we should be used to by now but we must look to improve upon this if we are to make strides forward.
As expected Arsène made some changes at half time, as I mentioned above, I was particularly impressed with Elneny who had replaced Xhaka. I would have liked to have seen those two together though. The other player coming in that made a big impact was Theo Walcott. It's rather typical really, I had written a blog a few days ago explaining that I couldn't see him regaining his best form any time soon. In fact the last time I wrote something like that about Theo, he produced his best season in an Arsenal shirt, so I'd be more than happy for that to be the case once again.
Theo set up Iwobi's equaliser but I wonder if his cross was intended for Aaron Ramsey who was also in the box, either way it does not matter because the run and cross was positive and decisive. Iwobi took a touch and curled into the corner of the net. Arsenal Vision writer JR wrote a very good piece on Iwobi only last week.
But Theo Walcott was not finished there. His goal was lovely and was the Theo of old. His turn past his marker was excellent, he gave the ball to Alexis and made his trademark diagonal run behind the City defence, the pass from Alexis was weighted to perfection, so much so that Theo did not have to break stride and his dinked finish over Joe Hart was excellently executed.
It was only a few days ago that Theo Walcott made it public that he wanted to go back to playing on the right. I tend to agree with Arsène that he lacks the defensive qualities to thrive in that role consistently, especially away from home. However, what I would say is that Alexis moving away from the flank allows Arsène to use Theo wide right because Alex Iwobi or that sort of player gives the team a greater balance.
Theo was also involved in Chuba Akpom's goal following a shocking pass from a City player. Akpom's knack of being in the right place at the right time may well be useful or is that wishful thinking?
City pulled one back at the end, our defending wasn't great again to be honest. We will have to iron that out on the training pitch.
The ugly part happened in injury time which is just so us isn't it? An Arsenal player getting injured in injury time. Not only an injury but an injury to a player in a position where we are struggling for experienced options. I couldn't quite make it out on the replay but Gabriel looked in absolute agony on the turf.
It looks like an injury that will keep him out for some time, I fully expect Arsène not to reveal the real diagnosis until a) we've bought another defender or b) the window has closed.
Without Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gabriel we are seriously lacking experience but we still have numbers at the very least. It is probably unlikely that we will be able to draft anyone in before the season starts so we may have to go with Holding and Chambers unless Arsène moves someone like Debuchy or Monreal into the centre.
So it was a sour ending to a positive game overall. We should be reasonably pleased with how our pre season has gone, not just because of the results although they will hopefully play some part in the confidence of the squad, but given how early it is, we look pretty sharp. But I am reminded that we looked pretty sharp last pre season only to find ourselves beaten at home to West Ham so we shall see.
Ok, so all eyes will be on the window until we face Liverpool next weekend. It will be interesting to see who will be the favourites for that game. It may well be worth checking out the odds on football betting at sun bets to see who has the upper hand at least in the eyes of the bookies.