Not much else happening at the moment, so I decided to go ahead and give you my thoughts on the Emirates Cup weekend. We’ve won the Cup by grabbing two wins, conceding no goals and producing a smashing performance against Lyon. One which spelled an end to Arsenal fans’ ongoing “buy Lacazette for 35 million” tune, simply because the Frenchman did nothing of note. Our youngsters were much more impressive than Alexandre. First things first, though.
Emi Martinez, what a great goalkeeper
I remember a period in November when both Szczesny and Ospina were injured (good luck to Szczesny during his loan spell with Roma, by the way) and Martinez was thrown into the limelight. The young Argentinian came in, kept three clean sheets in a row and left everyone in quiet awe. He was calm, commanding and professional. Then came the drubbing at Stoke away, which led to Arsene quickly putting Emi out of the firing line, but few fans doubted Martinez was the real deal by that point.
Martinez demonstrated his ability again on Saturday, making a couple of fine saves to keep the score at 0-0. His concentration levels didn’t drop after we effectively dispatched Lyon inside a 9-minute frenetic spell and by the time the final whistle blew I almost wished Emi wasn’t 3rd in our pecking order. He’ll most likely go on loan this season to play regularly and I can’t see where he fits in with Cech, Ospina and possibly reinvigorated Szczesny next year, but I hope Martinez has a future with us.
Him and Ozil were at the heart of everything good as long as the duo was on the pitch. The Welshman worked tirelessly next to Coquelin and his occasional defensive indiscipline can be forgiven because he contributed so much at the other end.
He directly assisted Iwobi for the 3rd, scored the 4th, was instrumental at starting the attack for the 2nd by relieving the pressure, freeing up space and finding Giroud, who in his turn set up Oxlade and it was Ramsey’s tricky exchange with Giroud and Ozil that led to the German scoring the 5th.
Last week’s performance in Singapore left me firmly believing Cazorla will be preferred to Ramsey when we face Chelsea: this time around I’m not sure at all. Rambo has unbelievable engine, almost telepathic connection with Ozil and is simply unplayable on his day. He’s given the manager a proper selection headache.
I won’t concentrate on his connection with Ramsey, won’t go over Mesut’s ability to slice open defenses with passes. I even won’t mention the fact he got further 2 assists (setting up Giroud and Ramsey). What struck me most was Ozil’s willingness to shoot more, get into the danger areas more and, frankly, adopting a very direct approach at times. There was that instance when Cech booted the ball long following a corner and I was fully expecting Oxlade or even Ramsey to be furthest. Instead, Ozil was closest to the opposition’s goal.
I feel like a proper pre-season put the German in the mood. The prospect of having him in the squad for the entire campaign genuinely excites me.
He had a quieter weekend than I expected him to. However, that didn’t stop the little Spaniard from scoring from a direct free-kick after coming on as a substitute.
Another detail is that Santi was pretty unnoticeable against Wolfsburg alongside Arteta, but immediately sparked into life when Hayden came on for Mikel. Isaac liberated Santi from staying behind and sweeping up; something which enabled Cazorla to really start pulling the strings late on.
I think if we want him to impact games from his deep role, it’s essential to provide Santi with a true sweeper, like Coquelin.
Like Ramsey, Alex is another senior who had a truly exciting weekend. It is my firm belief he should be a regular starter on the right flank.
The Ox had two complete performances. He did everything you could ask of him: he pressed, he harassed defenders, he powered past them with the ball, he provided width by hugging the byline. Finally, he added end product to his game. For me, Oxlade is becoming an Alexis Sanchez and I struggle to come up with a better compliment.
Youngsters: Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Isaac Hayden
All four looked spectacular. Iwobi only played for an hour against Lyon, but what a game he had. Alex scored a cracker with his left foot, he scored another after being wrongly flagged offside, he chased down defenders, he took them on with the ball at his feet. He even tracked back and in fact defended more than Gibbs, who had an underwhelming performance in my view. Iwobi was nominated for MoM, though brilliant performances from Ozil and Ramsey ensured he didn’t get it.
Chuba Akpom replaced Iwobi and cracked a shot off the outside of the post, he earned the free-kick that Santi scored from and was a constant threat down the left side. His second cameo was less spectacular and will probably be remembered for that late moment he failed to get the most out of, but he looked sharp and up for it, chomping at the bit.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide was probably the revelation of the weekend. He showed some really slick moves to set up Akpom and Walcott, demonstrated ability to escape his markers and looked very physical, more than you’d come to expect from a 17-year-old. His style eerily reminded me of Diaby, ghosting past opponents.
Hayden cut a less dramatic figure, something that can easily be explained by his role: he subbed Coquelin and Arteta (position-wise). And he looked very good, let me tell you that, snapping into tackles, intercepting the ball and basically doing all the dirty work, thus liberating Cazorla to work his magic. Hope we’ll see more of Hayden in that role, in Capital One Cup maybe.
A bit of tactics
I usually leave it for people better equipped on that front than yours truly, but this time I decided to share my thoughts for whatever they are worth.
The idea is very simple: I noticed how heavily we relied on our pressing game during pre-season and how bleak we looked against Wolfsburg, something which was down to the wrong personnel, in my view.
Which lead me to contemplate a following thought: will some of our established regulars make the squad if they cannot play the pressing game properly? Such an approach is heavily based on energetic players closing down opponents and passing angles all over the pitch, while it also needs to be coupled with a high line of defense to suffocate opposition.
As such, players will be left behind. While Arsene is unlikely to sacrifice his philosophy of one romping full-back and one more conservative (Bellerin & Monreal, please, not Debuchy & Gibbs), adopting a high-energy pressing tac will most likely spell an end for Mertesacker (Gabriel for him), Cazorla (Ramsey or Wilshere) and, alas, Walcott. Yes, Giroud is simply a hard worker, much like Welbeck, Oxlade, Sanchez and Co, so Theo falls down the pecking order. Community Shield should give us a better idea which squad and approach Arsene prefers.
“I can understand this question (about whether Arsenal is on the market for a striker) because we are in the transfer period but I can only repeat what I already said. I would not like it to be too detrimental. Just watch the game and enjoy the game that you see.”
Everyone was throwing around the word “cohesion” recently. Here’s another word for you from yours truly: harmony. Squad harmony. It’s very important and here’s why.
Keeping our squad happy is going to be a tough task already this season. We have a big squad, with fierce competition in every position (Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Ozil and Sanchez are the only sure starters for Wenger, it seems).
Now imagine we buy a world class striker. Let it be Benzema, just for the sake of the argument. I’m still not sure he’s much of an upgrade on Giroud, but that’s a different story.
Having coughed up a considerable sum for Benzema, Arsene will do so with one intention only: to make Karim a regular. Who’ll suffer as a result? Everyone else in attack. Welbeck’s chances for that central striker role will plummet, leaving poor Danny competing with Alexis or Oxlade, Walcott’s chances will do likewise (and I’d still pick Oxlade over Theo on the right), while Giroud, who is a similar type of forward will find himself benched having done little wrong. Akpom can kiss his hopes for first-team minutes altogether.
This can have a highly detrimental effect on our squad. Morale-wise. Wenger has shown he can be ruthless when he bought Cech, benched Ospina and shipped out Szczesny on loan, but buying Benzema will be a bit overboard. It will be doing a disservice to every other attacker, since it will diminish chances and increase an already fierce competition.
Wrapping it up
Phew, it’s already pretty long, so I’ll leave it here. Will most likely be back with a preview for Community Shield.