Our pre-season brought another tour, this time to the shores of Norway. Two matches will be played in this part of Scandinavia, and first up was Viking Stavanger.
The calibre of opponent matters to a degree in a friendly game, but more pertinent at this stage is each players level of fitness and match sharpness. Viking provided a decent test in the first half, but fell away like a chocolate fireguard in the second half in the face of soem impressive movement from the Gunners attack.
So what can we take away from this match? Here is five things that arose from our mauling of the Vikings….
Santi Cazorla isn’t fit, but we need him to be.
Some fans are of the opinion that our title challenge began to falter the moment our talented Spaniard was crocked midway through our season. They’d be right. Santi has been battling back to fitness ever since, and he managed ninety minutes for the first time this summer versus Viking. It was primarily down to Cazorla’s vision and impetus that Arsenal managed to ravage Stavanger, and the whole teams transition speed was so far removed from last seasons showings. We NEED Santi in our side, our style of play demands it.
Stavanger were NOT a test, but who cares.
The first half saw Viking provide an examination of sorts. Well, they made life difficult for our attack by stifling our forward line. Only one goal was plundered, and it was thanks to a great header from Mohamed Elneny met by an onrushing Joel Campbell who diverted it into the net. The second half though, was either a massive disparity between the class in sides – or just Stavanger committing footballing Hari-Kiri. Huge pockets of space opened up – manna from heaven for our side – and the Norwegians dropped ever deeper. We profited hugely from these niave tactics, but the value of victory was lessened somewhat. Consolation? It was massive fun to watch.
Bielik is growing in stature
The young Pole is a midfield convert, but his imperious displays in the centre of defence – even with Gabriel alongside him – are beginning to gain attention from Gooners. He has covered himself in glory in all of his friendly appearances thus far, and his calmness belies his teenage years. That is the scary thing though – he is still 18. If he continues along this projected improvement, then he may just make the jump to the first team. If he plays versus Manchester City on Sunday, it may just be a signal that Bielik can look forward to a Premier League debut this season.
Alex Iwobi is here to stay
The young Nigerian only appeared for the second half, but his impact was immediate. Yes, Stavanger invited pressure onto themselves, but despite their tactics, their are certain aspects of play that can be looked into. Iwobi’s touch was flawless, his decison making was also brilliant. It is this latter variable that usually improves with age, but Iwobi seems to have this down rather well. With each transfer that prospectively comes through the door, the chance for a player such as Iwobi to make a breakthrough becomes ever smaller. This is by no measure a defence of the nadir of our signing aspirations, just a healthy dose of realism. Iwobi beat the odds, and he is here to stay.
Joel Campbell is vital
Last season during our annual injury crisis, all hands were on the pump. One of them was Joel Campbell, and with every match, he showed how good he truly is. Exemplary vision, great stamina and a good touch, the Costa Rican was at it again against Viking. He scored two and was a constant menace. What a player we have to fall back on. In fact, at this current time, only Aaron Ramsey stands ahead of him in the current pecking order for the right hand side. We would be mad to oust Campbell, but if he isn’t playing, he will have many a suitor that would jump at the chance to give him the stage he deserves.
There were many other candidates that impressed. Mathieu Debuchy seems fully intent on impressing a potential new club, Gibbs looked good in the first half before being replaced, and Ospina did himself no harm.
Theo though, still has a massive amount of critics, and after the last couple of years, he cannot be surprised by the vitriol. He again had moments where he fumbled possession, but he also made intelligent runs and never hid from the ball. His goal showed great control, but it will hardly convert the doubters. A full season, without injury, and I remain confident that he can prove his worth. Cue the fury….
Two goals for Joel Campbell, two for Iwobi, with Cazorla, Akpom, Walcott and an own goal were the beneficiaries of the Norwegian team’s generosity, and the diluted obstacle that was Stavanger may attract detractors.
This match was not the sternest of tests, but our players touch, awareness and fitness are ever closer to the levels required for Premier League combat. So by that regard, this match was a big success.
Next up, we have Manchester City on Sunday the 7th, to conclude our tour in Norway. That will be the litmus test for our side, with our domestic opener against Liverpool seven days later.
So far, so good though. Thank you Viking Stavanger for giving us a game, and some extra confidence.