New season, new beginnings, perhaps not for Arsenal. The Gunners suffered a 1-2 loss to Hibernian in their first pre-season game of this campaign, and it looks like there is still a lot of work to be done before they play their first game of the season in a month’s time.
Mikel Arteta made an interesting selection as it was a mix of both youth and experience, while he also brought on a lot of the first-team stars in the second half but to no avail.
So, here are 5 things that were noticed during the Gunners’ first pre-season match of the 21/22 season:
1) Same story as last season:
Pre-season games are often played to try out new methods, tactics, and players and to get a fresh start. This did not look like the case with Arsenal, as it felt like they came into this game the same way they ended the season– with tried and tested methods. Set up in a 4-4-2, Arsenal tried to be solid across all areas of the pitch, but as soon as something did not according to plan, there were dropped shoulders while there was no leader on the pitch. The players were certainly driving for a goal, but the desire to run into the box and put the ball in the back of the net was missing, and it immediately gave flashbacks of last season, and it felt like nothing changed.
Most players did get a reasonable break and rest after the end of last season, and they still looked a little lethargic, while it did not look like Mikel Arteta worked hard in training with the boys. Most players look to impress their gaffer during the pre-season games but that did not look like the case here and this talks more about the manager than it does about the players. Arteta has failed to create an atmosphere where he can demand respect and 100% from his players week in and week out. Something needs to change, otherwise, Arsenal fans will be in for a long season again, something they had enough of last season.
2) Fringe players instead of academy players:
Mikel Arteta’s selection, although interesting, was not motivating for young players around the club as he chose to field players like Cedric, Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland Niles, and Eddie Nketiah, while he also brought on Hector Bellerín from the bench. All of these players have been linked with a move away from the club and there was no particular reason why Mikel Arteta had to select them. A lot of Arsenal fans were left bewildered with the selection of such players because they felt that these players were being trained for the clubs they will be moving to before the start of this season.
Instead, it would have boded well for Arteta to start players like Folarin Balogun, Omari Richard Hutchinson, and Jack Henry Francis, who were eventually brought on from the bench. All of these players are excellent talents from the academy and need to be given the chance to showcase their talent to the manager. If Mikel Arteta continues to field such players in the rest of the pre-season games, he will not have the chance to replenish the squad with exciting talent, something he was able to do last season with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.
3) Youngsters to the fore again, not the experienced ones:
Although this was the first game of the season, most fans expected the players to be well-drilled and fit for the start of the season. However, it seemed like this applied only to the younger players in the squad as they were the ones with all the drive and desire to score a goal. Experienced players like Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Willian, Cedric, and Mo Elneny looked lacklustre and lethargic whereas, Reiss Nelson looked the fittest player on the pitch. Nelson continued to make runs on the right-wing and also got a couple of good shots away but the same could not be said for Willian on the other wing as it looked like the Brazilian was off the races and had put on a couple of pounds, which is a little unprofessional from a player of his standards.
Even after Arteta made 10 changes to the side, it was Emile Smith Rowe who scored the consolation goal, while players like Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe failed to score, with the latter also missing a penalty. 19-year-old Arthur Okonkwo, who started the game in goal, was put under immediate pressure for the 1st goal after a horrendous back pass by Cedric, and this ruined the young keeper’s confidence.
When a team is down, it needs its experienced players to come to the fore and guide the youngsters along the way. However, it was Omari Richard Hutchinson and Jack Henry Francis who were taking the fight to Hibernian, which albeit very encouraging, should not have been the case in the first place.
4) Lack of a proper centre-forward:
Eddie Nketiah’s 1v1 rendezvous with the goalkeeper in the 10th minute that ended in a poor miss showed how badly Arsenal lacked a finisher at the club. If these were not warning signs enough, Alexandre Lacazette proved the case in the second half as he took several shots, but none of them materialized into a goal, while it was a similar story for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who did not fancy taking a shot on.
This is not encouraging for Arteta, who needs a 20-goal-striker at the club if he wishes to penetrate into the Top 6 of the table next season. One advantage he has going into this season is that the Gunners do not have European football, and thus, he can use his best players comfortably without exhausting them. But this method will not work if his forwards are not firing on all cylinders.
This game showed that creativity is not Arsenal’s sole problem, but it is also the finishing, rather the finisher in the penalty box. Arteta needs to motivate Aubameyang to lead the line more often as it looks like he is Arsenal’s best shot of scoring above 20 goals in the upcoming season. It does not look like the club is going to sign a forward, and it will be down to Arteta to churn the best out of his forwards if he wants to right the wrongs of last season.
5) There could be a new free-kick taker next season:
While Granit Xhaka was, more often than not, the main free-kick taker at the club, that might not be the case next season as the Swiss is set to depart the club over the summer. Thus, this leaves Arteta with the option of letting Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, or even Willian take the free-kicks as most of them have shown in training as well as in previous games that they can strike a deal ball incredibly well. However, it was a major surprise when Thomas Partey stepped up to take a free-kick against Hibernian in the second half. To everybody’s bigger surprise, he rattled the crossbar, and the ball bounced back into play.
Nobody knew about this talent of Partey as he was always known more for his stature and his ability to win the ball back. But his technique, run up and shot were brilliant, and he is an incredible option when a free-kick is 25 or 30 yards out as he has the power to topple the net and place it into the top corners.
It remains to be seen whether he has the skill to score from the edge of the box, but this is an ability of the midfielder that Arteta could surely exploit. David Luiz was often employed during such free-kicks but it could now be time for Thomas Partey to introduce himself into this foray of the game as well. Everybody loves a free-kick taker, and this could make the Ghanaian a fan-favourite amongst the Arsenal faithful.
Thus, there a lot of things for Mikel Arteta to think about after his pre-season game of the campaign, and hopefully for Arsenal fans, their next game which is against the Scottish Champions Rangers, will be a better outing than this one.