Thursday, February 29, 2024

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2- Conclusions and (Over) Reactions

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.

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.

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.

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Mayor McCheese

A farcical game, really. A legit goal by Arsenal (Sambi!), clearly in, missed by the linesman. Dreadful error by Bellerin for Chelsea’s winner. Injury to Thomas Partey, easily our best player of the first half. Fingers crossed on that one. Don’t really care about the result, but the injury…we need that guy.


Didn’t see it….is Partey’s injury worrying?

Mayor McCheese

Ankle caught in a challenge, but he was fouled constantly with no consequences to the Chelsea players. Chelsea dirty as usual.

He walked off the pitch unassisted, and hopefully it was a precaution, but I’m worried.




Sambi? It was Willock who’s goal would’ve stood if goal line tech had been on, no?



The Beast

Yeah pretty sure it was willock.

Looked a clear goal inside the ground and even clearer after checking online when I got home. No clue what the lino or ref were thinking


Amazing that a guy who never missed a match for Atletico seem to pick up injuries from what seem like innocuous challenges. Only at Arsenal. Desperately hope it is nothing.


Yup, holding looked SO out of place in the high defensive line. And elneny struggled to offer any cover at all. Please let partey be ok….

Bleeding gums murphy

Lots on here we’re talking about Holding as if he is top class 😂😂😂

Mayor McCheese

He’s well-liked and a good player. I’d say he’s under-rated, actually. Nobody talks about him as ‘top class’, so just give it a rest.

Bleeding gums murphy

He’s well liked 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂


yes he is because he is steady and was a star man from

Frank Bascombe

Leave off, mate.

The Beast

Being well liked not a quality you’re familiar with?

Obama Young

And he is a good defender if we’re not playing such a high line. If we’re going to be playing attacking teams like Chelsea with a high line, Holding isn’t suited for that. Neither are several other players we have.

The Beast

I thought Mari struggled a bit as well actually. Hudson-Adoi gave him the run around on a couple of occasions. I don’t remember him looking so vulnerable to pace before but guessing it’s due to playing a higher line than usual as pointed out


I like Holding and he’s a very good player. A great back up who would do good in most PL teams.

Bleeding gums murphy

Agree with you, good in most premiership teams just wouldn’t get in the top 6. Probably why’s he keeps starting for us 😂😂


Holding, Mari or Elneny wouldn’t get into any other top 10 side…..what happened to Partey??


bellerin – really does look like a boy amongst men…
nketiah looks born again!! maybe he’s a winger?
PMA – seriously, what do we do with him? can’t score in a brothel right now – its frightening.
lokonga – looks a bargain.


Tavares look promising too. That cross to Auba…phewww

Hakuna Matata

I’m guessing u have scored many a times in a brothel!!!😆


Im pretty sure he’s prolific


not for 18 months he isnt

The Beast

Really impressed by lokonga. Looked right at home as soon as he came on.

I know it’s been said before but seems like the first thing he does after receiving the ball is look for a defence splitting pass or, failing that, progresses it himself. Looks a real bargain


The only consistency is that all our defenders keep getting worse each season. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS CLUB?

The Beast

3rd best team in the league last season. We’ve got our problems but defence isn’t really one of them atm

The Beast

3rd best defence that was meant to say. Freudian slip & all that…

Ray's ice cream Parlour

Leno – I thought his distribution was poor before today, but if this is what to expect in the coming months – we have a problem !!!!

The Beast

He was a bit manic today wasn’t he. Made for an entertaining match but didn’t exactly fill me with confidence


Still believe we sold the wrong keeper. Not gonna move on from that until we get a better keeper.



Julian Gheiler

We equalized though. Unfortunately the linesman missed it.


Got to keep Willock, he’s still got his scoring boots on


ngl Arteta is not the right manager for Arsenal. I just feel he’s not the right fit tbh


And who do you recommend? Even if they would come to Arsenal?

Teta's cult of personality

Goodness me. Arsenal are a football club that are willing and able to give a manager: Decent time and leeway on the job. A competitive salary. More autonomy. A considerable transfer and wage budget. Do you realise how rare a combination that is for a manager to have in world football? There are many clubs in the top 5 European leagues that don’t even offer a manager just one of those things.Why do some Arsenal fans act like we can’t do much better than what we currently have in the coaching department. Especially considering what the club has to offer… Read more »

The Beast

Seems a bit mad to claim arsenal are a club that offers decent time and leeway on the job whilst arguing that the current manager should be sacked before the season’s even begun.

Teta's cult of personality

My lack of confidence is our current manager has no bearing on the fact that Arsenal haven’t sacked a full-time coach within their first full season in over a 100 years.

Why are you trying to argue here? It’s a fact that Arsenal have on average given their managers more time than other clubs.
In our history, we’ve had at least 14 managers who have lasted more than 3 years in the job.

The Beast

Not trying to argue, just questioning your logic.

So, if it’s a fact that Arsenal have on average given their managers more time than other clubs (more than 3 years as you put it) are you, as a supporter of the club, willing to give Arteta at least that amount of time?

Or would you prefer Arsenal were not a club that gave their managers decent time and leeway on the job?


I think Emery was pushed. Not one of the top top 6 managers would leave and come to Arsenal. Rogers wouldn’t.

Frank Bascombe

You just ‘feel it’? They’d best sack him pronto then.


It seems arsene placed a curse on arsenal before he left, with the way he was pushed out, and due to how he built arsenal, cos the more the club tries, the more nothing seems to work


Swearing at the crowd, throwing the armband, playing like a lunatic is Xhaka giving 100% for some I suppose. Anyway… opinions.

Hakuna Matata

His frustrations demonstrated passion unlike many players that are simply pedestrian

Teta's cult of personality

So are the football supporters that threaten and lash out at players (e.g Xhaka & Saka), referees and managers simply just demonstrating more passion?

Does that make the rest of us pedestrians?


Whoa that’s some leap


He was pretty good last season, he deserves some recognition for that.

Bleeding gums murphy

That’s the problem he did ok in a team that finished 8th. Lots of us want better.

Frank Bascombe

No, only the enlightened like yourself want that. The rest of us are all happy with mid-table. If only we could all be like you, coming on here making right mugs of ourselves.


Lots of us have lost touch with reality

Tim Stillman

Yeah I think so. He was totally wrong in that incident but I never saw a game when Xhaka half arsed it. He’s not been quite good enough for what we need but he has absolutely always given his best.

Teta's cult of personality

I don’t know Tim… You probably watch more football than I do. Are you telling you can’t remember the several instances where Xhaka has given up on on tracking back mid-sprint only for the opposition to score from a zone he left unguarded. What about: Watford, 2017 – Xhaka slows down to scratch his nose to let only to let Cleverly get a shot away? Wolves, 2018 – Xhaka doesn’t attempt to intercept a pass that is allowed to reach the eventual scorer, Cavaleiro? United, 2017 – Xhaka stops to pull up his socks instead of marking the eventual scorer… Read more »

Doesn't Matter

Totally agree, Mo Elnany will put in at least 50% more effort the Xhaka in every match they play together and Mo is a fringe player, sadly, i love the guy. Xhaka is a good captain for motivation but he often gives up and looks to others to blame either on our team, the other team or referees


I am sure you will find 5 instances of Paul Pogba, Toni Kroos, Busquets, Jorginho not doing enough to prevent a goal. They are all mugs then…?

No one will say Xhaka is perfect all-round midfield general we though we had signed, but he’s not half as bad as our supporters make him out to be. He’s not had a decent partner who can complement him until last year.

Xhaka needs to do better, but so does everyone else. His role isn’t the only thing not working in this team.

Teta's cult of personality

Come on Sachin, I never said Xhaka was a mug. Pogba and Jorginho are just as contentious figures for their clubs but Xhaka was the topic of this comment thread. I just don’t agree with the notion that he is a lung-busting and impassioned midfielder.

Don’t you remember the Leeds game in which Pepe was sent-off? The first thing he did after the final whistle was go have a friendly chat with Alioski before speaking to any of his team-mates. Does that strike you as a player that cared about the match result?


I’ve seen far too many games where he has, as you say, half arsed it. It’s actually typical of mediocre players to pretend so called passion can make up for lack of footballing skill & talent. But, as I said …opinions. And of course our actual problem, more so than any player, is the evil owner.


You’ve never been angry at your mates after fucking up? Never had an argument with your boss?


Just a friendly.
Surely no one can expect Arsenal to be challenging for top four though – not saying that to be unpopular but the teams ahead of us are in a better place to attract the better players – I mean, if Ben White is so good why not the attention from the top clubs?


Absolutely BS


Is it just me or the players that have not looked good this preseason have all been players that were before Arteta came? The players who played well towards the end of last season remain doing well. I hope Arteta doesn’t act stubborn and sees that Lokonga is just so comfortable playing in the midfield and starts him. Nketiah has looked so confident this preseason, the hold up, tricks and flicks, he is really fighting to prove himself. Arteta can probably send out Reiss Nelson on loan now. Auba, Auba, Auba. Nothing worse than knowing someone is world-class but they… Read more »


I agree with most of the comments. Yes I dont like losing to the Russian Trophy Buyers any time but for two non professional errorsand a great goal disallowed because of incompetence officials shows just how close we are getting.I still see even better players coming in at the last minute and how about Whites first 45 minutes??


How many times have we looked great and gone unbeaten in pre season then not got off to a great start? It means nothing and we were robbed of an equaliser. Lets get behind the team and support instead of demoralising them.


good evening Tim Cant say I agree with too much you have written this time round. Holding was excellent most of last season and I still see him as a valuable member of our defensive options. Bellerin on the other hand regresses with every game, come christmas he will be non league standard. Nothing much has changed since last season Elneny still too negative and slow on the ball Aubamayang still contributes little if not scoring, and currently he couldnt hit a cows arse with a banjo We still over pass and go sideways Leno remains a liability Kolasinac remains… Read more »

Dave Roberts

Xhaka has had his ups and downs during his many years here. Part of the problem is he’s been our sole reliable midfielder most of the time. With Partey playing, he’s looked much better. And he cares whether we win.

Der Kaiser

The thing with Holding and Elneny is that they WANT to play for Arsenal and I love that. They may be squad players but decent back-ups. Modern day football is 11 months a year sand a squad is critical Bellerin worries me. Once it appeared that he was going to be the best fight- back in world football but I think the money may have got to him – focus on fashion and being a wealthy footballer and seem smoking. Just don’t think he has been 100 per cent focused for some time Like Eddie N still and our other… Read more »

Spanish Gooner

I WANT to play for Arsenal but nobody has offered me £60k/week for my services yet…


Trying to convince a counter attacking team to push up against two players adept at playing in a German league . Ie great at counter attacking, is not that surprising.

Mikel needs to get the balance right and with Partey out and Xhaka coming back this could be a crucial week in terms of the training and tactical setup he communicates to the squad.

Edu can’t get those new key players in fast enough. Especially a midfielder. Get it done.


I mean that we have been more counterattacking in order to move forward than we have been at transition. Sitting deep rather than forcing a transition.

So it will be hard to shake that off without new personnel

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