Pre-season assessement: are our younger players good enough to be old enough?

Pre-season assessment
I have not written an article since the end of season because:
.
  1. I was too depressed to feel the need to. I was mourning another wasted opportunity to have won the championship
  2. Other people had already said most of what I would have done
  3. The same old mantras from AKB and WOB factions were occupying the spaces on Twitter.
Like all of us I am indebted to Dave Seager and Alex (The Cannon) for keeping the flag flying.
.
I watched the Lens game and the MLS one last night and this is my assessment of the players and where we are. I did not analyse the players at Lens but I was interested in trying to pick up some idea of what AW was trying to glean from the game. Consequently my opinion is really about what, if anything, we can learn from the display. These are my conclusions:
.
  1. I could not discern any shape or plan in the way we played. BFG was still slow and could not maintain his position as anchor in the defence. There was too much distance between him and his partner in defence and the familiar gaps were there which Lens exploited
  2. We had no visible connection between defence – midfield – forwards
  3. Our players were playing as individuals and not very successfully at that.
I do not single out any individual for criticism because as a unit, they did not appear to have been instructed to play to a given plan. It looked as if they had been turned out like spring lambs to enjoy running about the field. If there was any plan, based on the selection of the team, I would have thought that Walcott, as a senior player (and with a point to prove) would have been our focal point to run at the Lens defence. Unfortunately, Lens were properly coached and they had a game plan which produced control of midfield and exploiting the gaps in our defence. They were so successful that Walcott did not receive any service and believe it or not he actually came back to look for the ball. He was completely anonymous throughout, but he escapes criticism because it would have been a miracle if anyone could have altered the course of the game. In short, we learned nothing from the experience other than that very few of those players on view will have a meaningful impact on the season.
.

Still slow, maybe losing positioning skills and now also injured

MLS:
We had a more meaningful mix of players who will feature, or potentially can do so, in the first team this season and so I have done an individual assessment this time:
.
PETR CECH: 7 Did a very impressive job of marshalling his defence and dealing with the few problems he had. There is an aura about him that instills confidence in the defenders.
.
DEBUCHY: 5.5  His lack of match time shows but he will still be a solid right back, maybe not with Arsenal, though. He made some solid tackles but he cannot recover his position as quickly as Bellerin when he forages upfield.  Giovani and Silva made things difficult for him.
.
HOLDING: 8 On this evidence we have discovered a gem. I can only assume that as a young man with Bolton, he had to learn quickly and accept responsibility beyond his years. He is big and physical, but he displayed great awareness and calmness in defence with astonishing  maturity. Never far away from his partner Bielik, between them they made it difficult for Drogba and Co. to penetrate the centre of the defence.
.
BIELIK: 6.5 For a young man, he also performed well, apart from one mistaken pass which led to their goal. He is somewhat behind Holding but has definite potential.
.
ALEX (The Ox):  7.5 He played well in both games and showed a better awareness through keeping his head up and looking for options. A definite overall improvement in passing accuracy and dangerous running at their defence. He also made a good effort for a goal from outside the box. Definitely part of the squad.
.

Ox has been one of the sharpest players in pre-season

GIBBS: 5.5 He is a good left-back but he has suffered from the consistency and better defensive play of Monreal. It shows in his lack of communication between the other defenders and the midfielders. Not helped by the change of position of Coquelin. He was frequently caught out of position and Wilshere had to cover for him.
.
COQUELIN:  5.5 He was tried deeper than usual as a quasi cover for Beilik. As it transpired Beilik didn`t need it and Coq was in a bit of a no man`s land. He gave his usual committed performance, albeir he did make one rash challenge.
.
ELNENY: 7.5  He is a perfect foil for so many of our midfielders. He has tremendous engine. Even in the heat of California, he kept running, making himself available and cutting off passes. His passing is economical and his passing accuracy is really impressive as is his first touch. He made one creditable effort to score from outside the box which was just tipped over by the keeper.
.
JACK WILSHERE:  5  One of our favourite sons. I wish Walcott had half of his commitment. There cannot be a bigger contrast between two players. He gives 100% to the cause but unfortunately, his injuries appear to have caught up with him. It showed in the Euros and again last night that he has lost a big part of his game. He does not appear to have the high speed bursts which got him out of tight situations and I got a distinct impression that he was nursing himself going into contact situations. He was very neat and clever at times such as when he turned away from Kaka and passed to Gibbs who had been out of position, and was thankfully able to bring the ball out of a tight spot. In the Euros, I was concerned that at times he appeared to be avoiding the ball and was directing the traffic with hand and arm gestures away from himself. That is not the Jack we have come to love and I really fear that we will never have him back.
.

Will Jack finally overcome his physical and psychological problems?

XHAKA: 8 He is a massive signing and destined to be among the best players in the league. He has a presence about him that has been missing since Viera left. He is calmness personified to the extent that he disguises how efficient he is at covering the ground. If Walcott was anything like the player he should have been, his diagonal passes would take defences apart and provide Walcott with opportunities to decimate them with his speed. He brought Elneny into the game constantly. I look forward to seeing him as he beds in to the team and I think he is a captain in the making.
.
JOEL CAMPBELL: 6.5 Joel deserved to be retained. He actually looks a class player when he runs onto a ball and has a smooth way of doing it without breaking stride. He picks passes out and is always looking for options. He is also looking for opportunities to shoot and is dangerous when he does. His greatest asset, however, is his work rate. He plays all over the pitch and it is common to see him dribbling around the defenders one minute and committing to a sliding tackle the next. He will continue to be a reliable stand in for higher ranked players.
.
MARTINEZ: 6 He didn`t have much to do but seemed as if he would cope with pressure if he had to.
.
BELLERIN 6.5 He was his usual self and bombed up the wing. In contrast to Debuchy, he was able to recover his defensive position quickly, but he did leave the flank exposed on occasions. He will have to develop a rapore with whoever is our right sided midfielder.
.
CHAMBERS: 5 Sadly, lack of games is showing and Wenger has done him no favours in his development. He was actually a better player when he came to us. Today, he doesn`t seem to know what his position is and he plays that way. At full-back or centre, he is vulnerable to a speedy player who runs at him and he looks like a younger version of BFG at times. He should be loaned out to try to regain confidence and if he does not succeed, then I am afraid that he should move on. I am sorry to have to say that because I did see him as a possible replacement for Mertesecker.
.

He’s got worse. Will he now get better?

MONREAL: 6.5 Simply slotted into his position and performed as efficiently as usual. For him it was just another day at the office.
.
ADELAIDE: 6  He continues to progress and he has individual skills which set him apart from the other youngsters. Not ready for full time action but will be a useful substitute.
.
IWOBI: 5.5 I am not convinced by him yet. He made an impressive debut last season but his performances tapered off a bit at the end. He tends to tire and I think the heat affected him as he slowed down visibly and began giving the ball away with sloppy passing. He did put the effort in but did not achieve very much.
.
ZELALEM: 5 He can certainly pass well and he was very neat and tidy in the execution of his passes. He reads the game well and takes up position to receive the ball competently. Unfortunately, he still looks as if he is sixteen and I feel that he does not have the physicality to succeed in the Premiership. I feel it may benefit him to be loaned out again with the intention of building him up.
.
WILLOCK: I hadn`t seen him before so I did not know what do expect. All I can say is that for the time that he was on his presence was notable by his industry and he contributed to the winning goal by passing to Monreal who supplied the pass to Akpom.
.
AKPOM: 5.5 I have given him a higher score than I would have if he had not scored the goal which was simply a tap in. He deserves credit for being in the right place, but generally I saw no evidence of improvement from last time. His touch is heavy and his hold up play is light years behind Giroud. He simply is not a Premiership player and he will not push Giroud into having to play well to keep him out of the team. If he can`t do that, what purpose does he serve?
.

Seems to be standing still in his development

This assessment is of limited value because there were so many first team absentees, many of whom will shape the set up of the team and who will have specific roles to play to provide purpose and execution of our game plan. To be honest, it was not possible in either of our two games to identify a recognisable shape or purpose to the team. It was simply of use to examine the youngsters and try to assess their state of readiness. The injury to Mertesecker has laid bare the lack of defensive cover which must be addressed, albeit belatedly, in time to acquaint a new CB with the squad and our method of play. We all know that there is also a glaring need for a CF to increase our conversion of assists into goals.
.
The lack of good cover for these positions makes me fear that we may have plenty of possession but we are just as likely to lose a game 4-0 as we are to win it by the same margin. Coquelin will never make CB. Can you imagine him trying to mark Ibrahimovich? He is too small and big CF`s will simply brush him aside. His lack of physical stature will lead to him making rash challenges, and it is a recipe for conceding penalties and going a man down and earning a suspension afterwards.
.
As far as midfield is concerned, Xhaka should be the first name on the sheet. How we fit Ramsey, Cazorla, Elneny, Wilshere, Chamberlain and Walcott into the team is a puzzle Wenger will have to solve. Alexis, Giroud and Ozil are automatic selections so the game plan and the cutting edge of the team will be of great importance. I hope Wenger improves his tactical skills, because we cannot give away points from the outset due to lack of players in key positions. Against Liverpool  and Leicester we have to hit the ground running and set a marker for the rest of the season.

, , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to Pre-season assessement: are our younger players good enough to be old enough?

  1. Sean Williams July 31, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    I watched the games too and can validate your accurate assessment. On solely the basis of those games I think both Xhaka and Elneny were a cut above the others and deserve their names on the team sheet. Wilshere looks a couple of weeks behind in sharpness and Holding looks a genuinely fit and intelligent player. The other kids are not ready. The Ox looks way more capable than Walcott. It’s time for Walcott to go. We are clearly in desperate need of a striker. It was clear to see that without a genuine finisher we are unlikely to finish above 4th place. It’s time Wenger fed the excitement, joys and hopes of the supporters, and not act like a mean soulless parent. The kids will come good but that will be in about 2-3 years. By then a lot of clubs could be far ahead of us. I’ve been missing the joyous football of Santi Cazorla and if he can stay fit maybe we could do a bit better.

    • Victor Thompson August 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

      Sean, sorry it took so long for my reply. I have just seen your reply to my article. I agree with your opinion but simply on the strength of his goals per season , I would wait a while longer before putting Walcott up for sale. I agree Ox is probably a better asset and I really can`t decide what sort of forward line and midfield AW will pick. I do think Jack is on thin ice. Unfortunately I don`t see any signs of full fitness and I notice he wasn`t played against City.

Leave a Reply