Tim Stillman watched Arsenal’s pre-season friendly against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium from the press box. Some thoughts from Tim on the game…
Prior to going off shortly after the half an hour mark, Thomas Partey was probably Arsenal’s standout performer. What was especially notable was that he and Mohamed Elneny often rotated in build up when Leno had the ball. Elneny often dropped in to make it a back three when Arsenal lost the ball, however, when Arsenal passed out from the back, Partey dropped just as often as the Egyptian to receive the ball from Leno to progress play.
Arsene Wenger started to do this with Xhaka and Ramsey towards the end of his reign, the idea being that it made it more difficult to isolate a single deep distributor and mark him. Partey’s ability to switch play is one of his big strengths and we saw examples of it from deep and from the middle third when he was on. It will be interesting to see whether this rotation persists between Xhaka and Partey- assuming we see them play together on a long-term basis.
BECAUSE WE GOT HIGH
Last week I wrote about my impressionI wrote about my impression that Mikel Arteta was looking to edge his defensive line a little higher up the pitch to make Arsenal more dominant in the middle and final third. Lokonga, White and Partey are all signings that, in my opinion, have been enlisted to help shoo Arsenal away from their 18-yard area.
Today was a tough test in that respect. Firstly, Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny will struggle to play higher up the pitch and it showed. In Werner and Havertz, Chelsea have a very dangerous counter-attacking setup and Arsenal were exposed for the first goal and suffered several other hairy moments when Chelsea broke through their defensive line.
This is the time to make the mistakes and to adapt, of course. But it was no surprise that having been forced to swap Partey for Xhaka during the first half, that it was Rob Holding who made way for Ben White at half-time. That change was likely pre-planned but Holding struggled to catch Werner on a few occasions, raising questions as to how well he can adapt to this new vision.
There are two parts of this Arsenal squad forming- players that Arteta either inherited or else that he has backed heavily and there are some players he has inherited that he would probably ideally like or need to move on from. The likes of Elneny and Holding possibly fall into that category- even if Holding did get a new deal last season.
Yet the rumours flying around about Xhaka and Bellerin illustrate that new contracts are not always an indication of long-term favour but can be about value protection. This is not to write off Rob Holding’s Arsenal career on the basis of half a pre-season friendly but I think this is something many of us have been thinking about for a little while now.
To be fair to Holding, Mari didn’t deal with the situation much better. He played as the left centre-half in a Flamengo team who very much defended on the halfway line. But defending in the Brasileirao and defending against Werner and Havertz are different propositions. One would expect White and Gabriel to be the first choice defensive partnership. One would also expect Lokonga to be ahead of Elneny in the pecking order when the Gunners travel to Brentford on 13th August.
XHAKA THE DARLING OF THE EMIRATES CROWD?
Until earlier this week, Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career looked certain to be over. Roma’s refusal to pay Arsenal’s asking price, or anything close to it, looks to have put paid to a move to Serie A. The Swiss was included in the squad today and came on for the injured Thomas Partey during the first half.
His name was greeted with generous cheers when read out before kickoff and those cheers were repeated when he entered the fray earlier than intended. Xhaka headed home the equaliser to great acclaim from the home support.
Granit has divided opinion during his Arsenal tenure and we still don’t quite know what the future holds for him. It was interesting to hear the reception he got, perhaps when fans sense his Arsenal career might be near the end, they felt a duty to acknowledge that, whatever your opinion on his talent and importance, this is a player who has always given his absolute best for the club.
Whether you think that his best is good enough is a matter of personal opinion but I think the fans recognised a player who doesn’t shirk responsibility. It remains to be seen whether this represents a fond farewell or a welcoming back into the fold.