Article by Paull Hemming – Follow @pdjhem
Much hype surrounds Liverpool ahead of the coming season. But what of the other teams gunning for glory (no pun intended)? We’ll begin with a look at Arsenal.
• Stephan Lichtsteiner RB/RWB (free)
• Bernd Leno GK £19.2m
• Sokratis Papastathopoulos CB £17.7m
• Lucas Torreira CM £26.5m
• Matteo Guendouzi CM £8m
Umai Emery was appointed to rumours he had £60m to spend. Which seems spot on when you tot up the above spends and subtract the outgoings. Fact is they’re still operating in ‘old money’. Georginio Wijnaldum cost more than Torreira two years ago. Yes that was an inner-league purchase but it was before fees had ballooned.
Emery himself is a strange appointment in some ways. Part of the reason it didn’t work at PSG (aside from Neymar and Cavani squabbling over penalties) was the squad he inherited. Laurent Blanc favoured a possession-based approach with Paris attempting to dominate the ball and the game.
Emery historically prefers to sit deep and counter-attack. It didn’t work because Paris just weren’t built to play that way (plus he splashed out £35 million on Krychowiak who was sitting on West Brom’s bench fifteen months later).
Many of the same problems seem present at Arsenal. This is a squad made to control the game. Keep the ball. Probe.
None of which is to say the Spaniard is a bad manager. He did a wonderful job at Valencia under trying circumstances, finishing third in three consecutive campaigns. Before being forced out because the fans didn’t like his brand of football.
And Liverpool fans are all too painfully aware of his record in the Europa League with Sevilla.
What the new boys bring
• Stephan Lichtsteiner is there to provide backup to the enormously overrated Hector Bellerin. Some veteran leadership and an aggressive nature won’t hurt either. Turned down Dortmund to join the Gunners.
• At 26, Bernd Leno is fairly young for a goalkeeper. But not young enough to not be considered a clear number one above Petr Cech. Cech has been declining rapidly for a couple of years now: he’s poor getting down to low strikes and has never been comfortable with the ball at his feet – a must for modern keepers.
Just the other day against Chelsea there was a mix-up between he and Papastathopoulos. The Greek, used to Roman Burki’s agile sweeper-keeping was expecting Cech to come for the ball. Cech, glued to his line, was doing his best Shay Given impersonation. If Leno isn’t yet good enough to be a definitively better goalkeeper than this version of Cech, what are you paying for?
• Many are big fans of Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Don Hutchison (better than you’d think as a pundit) is one. The sickeningly well-versed Andy Brassell is another. Strong, fairly quick and combative, he certainly has his positive traits. And if asked to defend his own area can be very good.
However, if the suicidally high-line Arsenal used against Chelsea on Thursday is anything to go by, the Greek might struggle. He’s another of those very physical, wants to win every challenge types. Thus he can be drawn out of position trying to win personal duels too far up the pitch.
Compounding the issue is Shkodran Mustafi. Given Laurent Koscielny’s injury history the German is likely to be a more regular partner. As regards Mustafi, we’ll let this to do the talking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=046Q3ySzqeE
Figure 1 Both images via wikipedia
• Young Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi looks a decent prospect. Possessing a striking resemblance to Raphael’s portrait of Pietro Bembo, Guendouzi demands the ball and is comfortable receiving it in tight spaces and playing through lines. Stood out against Chelsea but this was partly a result of Sarri’s plan.
Leading 1-0, the blues were more than happy to allow Guendouzi to drop between the centre-halves, receive the ball, check his Instagram and order a meal. In the meantime they’d constricted all the space in front of him. Particularly the case in the first-half, he was playing in midfield by himself because he’d been cut-off from his attackers.
• Not seen a lot of Torreira so probably shouldn’t comment in detail. By all accounts a good technical player who uses the ball well.
It’s very dangerous to take overall impressions from one game. But judging by Thursday night’s performance, Gunners fans should be very worried.
A defence which operated on the halfway-line and had their share of dangerous mix-ups. A midfield sliced in two by Chelsea’s positional defending. And an attack which looked devoid of game-changing talent. At this point it’s looking more and more likely that Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s wonderful last-season at Dortmund was a one-off. Aubamayeng will always score goals but contributes little else. While Alexandre Lacazette did really well to fashion two self-created chances. And then missed both tamely.
More worrying than all of this though was that they didn’t look all that different to last year, particularly in the first half. Other than a few more direct-passes it could have been Wenger in charge. Defensively fragile, lacking incisiveness in their passing and more than anything, lacking aggression in their play.
There was an opportunity to pen Chelsea in when Azpilicueta received a ball on the edge of his own box from his goalkeeper. Instead the Spaniard was able to turn his head and play a pass thirty-five yards up the field to a teammate.
Yes it’s dangerous to take impressions from a friendly. But with just over a week before competitive fixtures start, playing a rival and a side they’ll play proper in just two weeks, this was wildly disappointing.