Tag Archives: friendly

Community Shield Preview

Published on The Arsenal Review

The season finally gets underway with this fixture. The Community Shield has been the curtain-raiser for many years, and this season starts with a London derby with plenty of expected fireworks to look forward to.

Last season saw the Gunners edge out their West London opponents in terms of amount of victories – one apiece in League wins, with Arsenal grabbing the decider with their victory in the FA Cup Final – but Antonio Conte winning the title in his first season means the Blues will start this fixture as favourites.

Last season means precious little however. Both sides will be fit and raring to go after both clubs have enjoyed extensive series of matches home and abroad, so there should be no lack of rhythm or final ball. 

This event is meant to be a friendly, but it will be anything but as both sides will be eager to score psychological points over the other. Both outfits will be expected to be near the top come the end of the season, and a winning start over a rival is something that may be a big boost – and a huge dent for the other.

Both sides have already met in pre-season, with Chelsea running out comfortable 3-0 winners in Asia. It may have smarted, but this game carries far more weight.

Arsene Wenger has said in his Press Conference that his squad is nearly completely injury free, so the Gunners boss has some difficult calls to make. The only omissions from the squad will be Santi Cazorla and Gabriel, as well as Francis Coquelin. Will Wenger opt for the 3-5-2? Or will he fall back on his old faithful – the 4-2-3-1?

Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey were carrying knocks but are expected to make it, but what of Alexis? The Chilean has just returned to training, will he come straight back into the team? In truth, there is an embarrassment of riches in attack for Wenger, with Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette all vying for the striker spot.

If Wenger does go for three at the back, will Shkodran Mustafi miss out? The German has missed the majority of training, but is technically fit and available for selection. If Mustafi does miss out, will it be Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny or Per Mertesacker that will partner Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal?

So many questions, but Antonio Conte has just as many quandaries. With Alvaro Morata, Kevin Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko added to an already bulging roster, what will Chelsea’s eleven look like? Will the success of last season dictate Conte’s selection? Or will Morata and co get a baptism of fire? He will have to make do without Eden Hazard and Pedro through injury.

Whoever makes the team at Wembley, they will surely know that this is no ordinary ‘friendly.’ Both sets of fans will want this trophy badly, as will the Managers, although they will be loath to declare their wanting. This match matters though, make no mistake.

Chelsea are favourites for this game, but they were overwhelming favourites in May – and look how that turned out.

Potential Lineup – Cech, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac, Welbeck, Ozil, Lacazette.

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 Arsenal.

Arsenal 1-2 Sevilla – Emirates Cup Review

Published on The Arsenal Review

Arsenal fell to a disappointing loss in their second and final game of the Emirates Cup, but still won the pre-season competition.

Sevilla were game opponents, but Arsene Wenger’s men could only blame themselves after failing to truly stretch the Spanish side.

Wenger opted for a much stronger side than the eleven that smacked five past Benfica the previous day. Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hector Bellerin, Mesut Özil and Alexander Lacazette all came into the side, and hopes were high that another goal-rich display was in the offing.

The moves on the pitch did not match the illustrious names in the team though. Our midfield – with young Jo Willock – was often easily bypassed, and our attacks too often were left wanting a decisive ball.

All of these criticisms can be amended with more match practice, and a percentage of our lackadaisical play can be attributed to the fact that it was a friendly game – so no real cause for alarm.

Still, it’s never nice seeing your side play at half capacity of what they’re capable of, and that was the theme of the match. The first half especially was a timid affair, but if any team had the better of the chances it was Sevilla. Cech was tested a couple of times, but nothing too strenuous – which was in line with the whole game.

Arsenal did eke out a few chances, with Hector Bellerin guilty of a glaring miss on the volley at the back post, but the general feel was that we never got out of second gear, and neither did our opponents. Bellerin was soon to come off though, with Cohen Bramall replacing him.

You could tell it was a pre-season warm-up game, and anyone who witnessed the game can say with some certainty that next week’s Community Shield game versus Chelsea will definitely see much more effort.

The first half petered out, but the second half soon saw a goal – unfortunately it went to Sevilla.

Ben Yedder was a player that was linked to us heavily last year, and it was the former Ligue Un player that made the difference with a great pass to Joaquin Correa, who put it past Cech.

The 60th minute saw the usual tradition of substitutions, but this time we only saw one, with Granit Xhaka coming on for the willing but out of his depth Jo Willock. The youngster has a tidy touch but was overrun in this game. His time will come though.

Only two minutes later, we had an equaliser, and it came from our new boy, Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman made the most of his first home start, as a cross from The Ox left the Sevilla defence all at sea, and Lacazette finished from close range.

A scoring team is always most at risk from conceding soon after, and this was the case again. Seven minutes after Lacazette’s goal, Steven N’Zonzi – he of Blackburn and Stoke at one time – picked the ball up outside the box and finished beautifully over Cech.

There was enough time to find another equaliser, and Arsene Wenger ordered reinforcements to find it, with Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi on for Lacazette and Elneny. The fresh legs did nothing to increase our goal threat though, and there was very little urgency.

The game finished at 2-1 to Sevilla, but Arsenal still won the Emirates Cup thanks to more goals scored than the La Liga side. It means very little, and the first acid test will be against Chelsea for the Community Shield.

All in all, the Emirates Cup provided ample game time for our youngsters and another step towards match sharpness for our first teamers. A worthwhile exercise, as this season demands improvement on the last.

Arsenal 5-2 Benfica – The 2017 Emirates Cup

Posted on The Arsenal Review

Arsenal laid on the goals in the first day of the Emirates Cup, with Portuguese champions Benfica hit for five.

The last time Benfica played in this warm-up competition, Yaya Sanogo blitzed them with four goals as Arsenal ran out 5-1 winners. This was a similar story – but without the inspired underdog story of the now departed French striker.

This pre-season tournament is the next step on the way to being fully prepared for the coming season, and the tempo this game was played in suggested Arsene Wenger made sure his troops were fully aware of the need to put their all into this performance. 

The opponents too, played in a gear not familiar with a friendly match, and although they were not victorious, Rui Vitoria will be pleased they managed such a vigorous exercise.

This game saw the debut of our new, blue, away kit. Not to everyone’s taste, at least it was clearly visible on the pristine Emirates pitch. Arsene Wenger went for an experimental lineup – if he cannot do it in a friendly game, then when can he? – but it was not to hold the Gunners back.

David Ospina took the gloves, and again the 3-5-2 formation was implemented. Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Sead Kolasinac were the men who formed the backline, and in the all-important wing-back spots were two of our youngsters – Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson.

Midfield was comprised of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, with Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi just behind lone striker Olivier Giroud.

The equilibrium may not have quite set on the team, but at times, the click that all managers seek was on display. Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott were always on the front foot and took the game to Benfica defenders Luisao and Eliseu, but it was another who took the plaudits.

Young Reiss Nelson grabbed everyone’s attention on the pre-season tour in Asia, with his no fear approach which cut out chances and he really made things happen. This match though, was like a personal highlights reel for the 17 year old. Full of industry, Nelson never wasted a ball, and his close control at times overshadowed his more experienced and illustrious teammates.

However, it was Benfica who took the lead.

The Portuguese champions had made the early running, and Cervi took a shot which deflected off of Mertesacker. The ball diverted in direction enough to deceive Ospina, and the home side were a goal down.

Only for 13 minutes though.

Sead Kolasinac was making his Emirates bow, and he did enough to show home fans that he will have a positive impact. It was down to the Bosnian defender that Arsenal grabbed the equaliser, not giving up on a lost cause, keeping the ball in play and crossing for Theo Walcott, who volleyed into the net from inside the box.

Eight minutes later, the Gunners had the lead. It was Kolasinac again who was involved, this time he linked up well with Coquelin, who squared for an ominously lurking Walcott to finish easily.

The first half still had legs though, and a defensive lapse saw Benfica pull the score back to 2-2.

Xhaka and Elneny – a first half replacement for the injured Coquelin – were nowhere to be seen as the away team launched an attack. It was left to Mertesacker to show initiative. The German’s last-ditch tackle nearly worked, but the ball fell kindly for Salvio, and another deflection put paid to Ospina’s attempt to save.

The second half was a much more complete display from Arsenal. We held off Benfica’s intermittent attacks with relative ease, and it was only eight minutes until we regained the lead.

It was Theo Walcott again, his cross-cum-shot was put into his own net by Lisandro Lopez, and it was the least we deserved. Theo could have clinched his hat-trick seconds later, but after Giroud laid off the ball well, Walcott could only smack the ball well over.

Soon enough, it was four for Arsenal. This was all Reiss Nelson. The youngster flicked the ball to make room for a effervescent cross which Giroud diverted past the Benfica goalkeeper Julio Cesar with an outstretched boot.

Then it was five. Giroud used his body well to make room for Iwobi who absolutely pummelled the ball into the net.

Game over, and then, the raft of subs came which took the speed out of the match.

The Ox came on for the impressive Nelson, Lacazette replaced Walcott, Nacho swapped with Maitland-Niles, Mesut Ozil was on for Alex Iwobi and Ramsey took to the field for Granit Xhaka.

Arsenal saw out the game comfortably, and they can look back on a display which shows they are slowly improving their sharpness and pace. Not only that, but the fans were given a great show to whet the appetite for the coming campaign.

Let us not forget the class of opposition too. Benfica had their part to play for this hectic game, but they couldn’t handle the sharp interchanges in and around the box.

Next up is Sevilla, who defeated RB Leipzig 1-0. It’ll be another tough fixture against a pedigree foe, but there are still players who haven’t featured, so the lineup will be vastly different – as inferred by Wenger in his Press Conference before the tournament began.

So while the talk continues to centre on Alexis Sanchez and his future, Gooners can at least find solace in the fact that Arsenal are firing. 

Viking Stavanger 0-8 Arsenal – 5 Things We Learned

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. 

Chivas 1-3 Arsenal – 5 Things We Learned

The next match on our US tour, taking place after a glitzy kit launch in LA, saw another win for Arsenal.

Rob Holding – and the new alternate 3rd kit – took centre stage, but another much changed lineup saw the Gunners put a physical Guadalajara side to the sword with some physicality and a sprinkling of invention.

Some may argue regarding what can be taken from a friendly game. The pressure that either makes or breaks a player is less stifling, so any displays must be taken with a pinch of salt, but objectively, there is also plenty to be taken as positives after such a result – much like our 2-1 win over the MLS All-Stars.

The ninety minutes that unfolded in the StubHub Center gave plenty of pointers for the coming season, and there is plenty of cause for optimism – and angst….

Rob Holding continues to impress, and may have bearing on our transfer targets

The fresh faced 21yr old signed from Bolton less than two weeks ago had an impressive 70 minutes in the victory over the MLS Allstars, but it was his first game, and there is a meagre amount that could have told us whether he will be a success. This match is much the same for the youngster, but a consecutive impressive appearance and his first goal could tip the balance in the pecking order for the centre backs at the club. He is comfortable on the ball,and his reactions are superb. He will hit a rocky patch in the future, but he is showing why he was so highly rated during his debut season at Bolton. Will Wenger now invest in an experienced central defender if Holding continues this incline?

Jack Wilshere is only out for a week – not a year.

The last time Jack Wilshere played a friendly in the US, he incurred an injury which kept him out for an entire season. This time though, Wenger has reassured us fans that Jack has merely strained the patella in his knee and is expected back within a week – but may miss the match against Manchester City in Gothenburg. Whatever injury he has picked up, what is imperative is that he gets the required rest. We pray that the week that has been diagnosed is not an Arsenal week, which would mean at least 32 weeks out….

Xhaka made his first start – and looked like he had been there for years

Granit patiently bided his time before he could start a game, offering fans only tantalising titbits of action and sightings. This game was the equivalent of when a gameshow finally shows contestants what they could win – and boy is it good. His positional play is so disciplined, and he seems to have an unerring ability to be exactly where the team needs him – be it in attack or defence. His passing was on point, his tackling just as good, and he seems to be as fit as a fiddle. Could we have another five of him please?

Coquelin, Santi and Elneny all at loggerheads for spots

What has been apparent is that Coquelin has taken no prisoners during this tour, and is keen to press home the one advantage he has over his midfield rivals, and that is his tackling. Whilst he has been snapping away at the opposition tirelessly, Santi played in this game too, also donning the Skippers armband. Santi is perhaps one of the most blessed in terms of talent, and his workrate is not to be sniffed at. In terms of who looks to have the advantage so far though? Elneny may just be edging it. Tireless displays, great passing, and he hasn’t been afraid to push forward and have an effort from outside of the box. It may just be fitness that stops Santi getting the spot ahead of Elneny, but against Guadalajara, Coquelin and Xhaka started in the 2 of a 4-2-3-1, with Santi taking the coveted Number10 role. Elneny came on at half time, but will he get the nod to partner Xhaka against Liverpool on the 14th? 

Debuchy is that doggy in the window

It could be misconstrued that with Mathieu Debuchy gaining so much game time so far in the friendlies played, that the French rightback may just have forced himself into the Managers thinking. 

With Hector Bellerin slowly proving to everyone what a world class talent he is though, will Debuchy be happy playing second fiddle? Well, tha answer to that was apparent last season, when Debuchy went on loan to Bordeaux, rather than sit on the bench. Of course, he had dreams of making the Euro 2016 squad, but Debuchy wants to play, and his displays so far have had a slight air of needing to impress. It won’t be Wenger he is trying to lure with his gung-ho attitude though, it will be the managers who would have been watching the match. He will proveto be a fine acquisition for a top team, but Debuchy gave away the penalty which allowed Chivas to score in this game – and his aggression was at times too high for a game designed to be a barometer for his side rather than touching the mercury. Debuchy will no doubt earn a moe from Arsenal, but stranger things have happened.
Other noteworthy mentions would be Chuba Akpom scoring his second in two cameos on tour, which indicates a high level of confidence for the youngster. He is full of willing and has a good touch, but needs to work on his hold up play a little. Chambers played well alongside Holding, and Theo takes the brunt of the abuse, but I predict he will come good. Also, The Ox scored an absolutely great goal, cutting in from the right, skinning his opponent, before curling past the keeper. The sky is the limit for him, if he can maintain a modicum of form and fitness. Both are equally important and have been just as rare for the young England man.

Like I said, there was plenty to take from the game. Fitness levels looked good, and with two friendlies yet to be played, there is still time for some fine tuning – and perhaps an addition or two would be welcome?

One more thing that we can take from this game? We scored from a set-piece. A rarity in domestic fixtures, but Santi flighted in a free kick, Chambers knocked it back at the back post, and there was Holding. Why can’t we do that more often?
My thanks again to @kittyglitter – a Gooner who is a must follow.

MLS All-Stars 1-2 Arsenal – 5 Things We Learned

Upon first inspection, Arsenal’s friendly versus the creme of the top flight in the USA on Friday morning (or Thursday night, dependent on location), could be overlooked as a money-spinning exercise, or as an elaborate parade to garner more fans across the globe. 

At the very least, it was a vital warm-up for our players as they slowly ascend the gears and shake off summer excesses, in a bid to fine tune their bodies for another slog of a season. For the competition this coming campaign will be fiercer than ever, so every measure must be taken to ensure optimisation of every asset.

This match represented a notch up from the previous friendly game – the 1-1 draw versus RC Lens last week – so our squad, or at least the men selected to travel across the pond, could see where they needed to work a little harder before ceremonies begin on the 14th August against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

It may be quite difficult to take anything of note from the game, other than our players are being put through their paces – but with a keen eye, there is plenty for us Gooners to suckle upon until we again take to the pitch on Monday the 1st August versus Chivas de Guadalajara. 

So, here at The Hot Stepanovs, we thought we would provide you with a bite-size, handy article which points out what will give Arsene Wenger food for thought, and what us fans can use to soothe us during the traumatic transfer window….

Theo still has low confidence – but there are signs of life.

Theo once again was given the benefit of the doubt –  that heaving, dark doubt that shrouds the majority of fans thinking – and given the sole striker slot. He had three opportunities, and two were off target, with the other drawing a smart save from All-Stars keeper Andre Blake. 

Theo may have failed to register a goal, but he was in the right place to take the chance. His positioning is improving. His runs are being found – and all this without the King of Assists in the team. This isn’t a declaration that Walcott must start, or that he is the striker we need – far from it. 

Just that he shouldn’t be written off. Not at full fitness, in a team that was far removed from what we will field for our season opener, this display was a subtle signal that he has something to offer.

Don’t get carried away with Rob Holding

The boy only completed his move last week, and before he knows what is happening, he is jetted away to San Jose, California, to play the best that Major League Soccer has to offer. 

For such a whirlwind week, Holding did well – and that is the problem. He will either be the next Martin Keown, or consigned to the scrapheap as soon as the smallest mistake rears its ugly head. It is never grey, only black or white.

Holding played well, but it is far too early to gauge where he stands in regard to being able to fill in where necessary in the heart of our defence. Holding must be treated like a goldfish you have just won from the fair – keep it in the bag as you gradually intorduce him to the new water in the shiny tank you’ve bought him. Patience is key, but he did his no prospects no harm.

Holding surprised most of us with his display, especially as he was tasked with some contrasting styles to combat. The guile of David Villa, the trickery of Sebastian Giovinco, and……

Didier Drogba continues to haunt our consciousness

The Ivorian ruined our defence repeatedly whilst plying his trade for Chelsea. He even ruined a few careers too (we remember a Philippe Senderos before Drogba was unleashed upon him). 

The facts spell it out quite clearly. Prior to kickoff in this game, Drogba had plundered fifteen goals in fifteen games against us.

Provided a chance thanks to Sacha Kljestan of NY Red Bulls, he took a few attempts to put it past Petr Cech and Holding, but he did just that. 

That makes it 16 in 16. If Didier Drogba runs a business into his fifties, there can be no guarantee that they will be the ruination of our football club. Everyone needs a nemesis, and Drogba’s campaign to elect himself ours is quite frightening.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is hungry

Against Lens last week, and during the seventy minutes he played in this game, The Ox and his direct manner stood out against the large sedate sections of the game. He took people on, as is his wont, but his end product and composure looked a little more fine tuned. 

Whether it is practice drills, just a flash in the pan, or a little experience seeping through? Who knows. When in full flow though, The Ox provides entertainment. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

Krystian Bielik has been schooled well, it seems.

Much like Dr Dre accuses us of, we forgot about him. Not the good Doctor, no, but Bielik. His time for the reserves has sauteed his talents though, added the spices and taste that he needed. He was alongside Rob Holding at the start of the game, and Bielik looked like he had been playing for many a year. 

Will he even gain a place on the bench? Surely a loan beckons for this young man though, as it is now time where the only thing that can aid his career further is gametime. One thing is for sure, it looks like whatever club is the recipient, they stand to receive a very promising player. 

There were many more pointers that warrant mentioning. The MLS talent pool is quite clearly burgeoning, and the healthy flow of cash can only help attract more to the league. It was a very competitive fixture, and thanks to a few MLS defenders and Francis Coquelin, it meant that the winning mentality was on show from both sides. 

This MLS All-Star team played tottenham this time last year – and won 2-1. Our victory can be written off, but seeing our backup players given a chance to shine – which they duly accepted – and a confidence boosting win in the bag, can only be taken as a positive. 

Joel was again impressive. Akpom scored the winner and Jack managed forty five minutes. All plusses. 

A big thank you to Jeanne. You kept me in the loop until I could get home and glean as much as I could. I doff my cap to you madam!

Emirates Cup – Take From it What You Will.

The Emirates Cup approaches this weekend and it is one of the rare occasions that the words ‘bargain’ and ‘tickets’ are used in conjunction with a match at The Emirates.

The reason isn’t simply down to the £25 price, which is quite frankly incredible value for money. It is because the tournament organised by our sponsors provides spectators with a chance to view two matches featuring top quality teams. Continue reading Emirates Cup – Take From it What You Will.