I have to admit, I was worried about the Arsenal before the match yesterday.
Facing an MLS All Star starting XI which featured Drogba, David Villa, Kaka, Pirlo, Dos Santos, and some grubby dreadlocked hippy that they scrounged up off the streets of San Jose — they needed at least one USA American on the team, Arsenal started a defensive back line of 18 year old Bielik, new guy Holden, and two backup fullbacks in Gibbs and Debuchy.
Before the match I let my fear be known on Twitter, that not only would Arsenal lose but that they would get beaten badly. Though on the bright side of that, I mused, Arsenal would at least be forced to buy some players. Others responded with their fear that Arsenal would win and that would stop Wenger from buying. Thus, like American politics, Arsenal are a country deeply divided in the solution but united in our cynicism.
Seeing the lineups, I joked with my friend Sean (who was at the game) through Facebook saying “6-0 to the MLS All Stars, then” and “what minute do you think Drogba will start scoring? 10th?”
Arsenal’s newest center back, Holding, echoed my sentiments:
“I was a bit nervous coming into it. I was bound to be, but once I was on the pitch and warming up the jitters go and you are OK then. Your stomach settles and you feel good.”
And so, despite the nerves and the youth at the back, it was Arsenal who scored in the 10th minute. Campbell was hauled down by some guy and the referee pointed to the penalty spot and Arsenal were awarded our only penalty of the season. Campbell took the penalty and then did his best impression of that Italian guy, Zaza, from Euro 2016 with a twinkle-toes run-up. The only difference between Zaza and Campbell is that Campbell smashed home the free kick.
After that, the match settled into a more predictable routine. Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain looked lively on the right and wowed the crowd with some of his ball control skills. Time and again Ox was able to beat his man and get in a good cross, right to the penalty spot. Sadly, Arsenal were playing without a forward.
Well, Theo Walcott was on the pitch and he was running around quite a bit but he was never in the right place at the right time. Ostensibly, Wenger was playing a counter attacking side but Walcott was so awful on the day that every time he got the ball it seemed like he committed a turnover.
Walcott even had what is starting to look like a “Walcott moment”. He collected the ball in his own half and with no one in front of him, tried to dribble through the opposition lines, to “do the village*”, and ended up turning around in a cul-du-sac until he found himself on his ass. It was a carbon copy of the moment against Crystal Palace, where he was dispossessed and turned to the referee for a call. In this friendly, he got the call. In real life, he will never get that call.
If Wenger is even thinking about using Theo Walcott as a center forward this year he better have a look at that tape. Walcott has been speaking to the press about how he has been working on his game, improving speed, improving his first touch. But this is a fully rested and practiced Theo Walcott and it looked like he hasn’t done anything to improve his game and has picked up exactly where he left off last season: running to nowhere, turning the ball over, and not participating in the build-up play.
“That’s harsh Tim, it’s a pre-season friendly.” There, I said it for you. And it is a pre-season friendly. But I saw literally zero difference between his game yesterday and his games last season. Maybe he can miracle a turnaround. Though, he’s more likely to just fall over and throw his hands in the air.
If there is any hope, after the game, Wenger said that he is planning to add one more striker:
“At the moment, I do not have too many attacking options. Let’s not forget that there are still a few players at home, and that a few players didn’t play today, like Cazorla. Then of course you have Ozil and Ramsey at home, even Giroud is not here. We have options, but we still look outside to find one more.”
According to the press, Arsenal have been rejected by Cavani and Lacazette’s Lyon – with Lyon going one step further to suggest that Wenger made his final offer last week. Exactly who Wenger plans to buy is anyone’s guess. That is if he is actually planning to buy anyone or if we will find ourselves winning Arsenal transfer BINGO in September with “prices were crazy, players weren’t available, we have to buy according to our values, we can’t compete with money clubs, and we can’t just buy for buying sake.”
Wenger is aware of the time crunch to sign a player and I’m not expecting anything until the last week of the transfer window. With Wenger saying after the game;
“I’m more focused now on preparing for the season, because we are at July 29 and start on August 14. We have a very short time to prepare now, so my focus is on my players.”
Drogba provided the All-Stars with their only goal of the game, it was a scrambled junk shot which took 3 attempts at close range before scoring. Drogba targeted young Bielik throughout the first half. Using his brute strength and guile he pushed Bielik to the limit and the young Arsenal man responded exceptionally well.
I’m reading Tony Adams’ Addicted and was struck by how Adams described being a young man and going into these matchups with older former stars. People expected him to be star-struck but he wasn’t; he stood his ground and often he would get beat up by these old men. Like Adams, Bielik stood strong against Drogba, even getting a black eye for his efforts.
The second half was much more dangerous for Arsenal. With the primadonna players flying back to their clubs for a match on Saturday, the MLS All Stars like Giovinco showed serious attacking threat. Arsenal’s energy and organization levels dropped with a whole host of changes but the Gunners rode their luck to the end.
Xhaka has been praised for his game but I saw a lot of passes thumped too hard to teammates and I also noticed him traipsing back for the MLS All Stars best chance of the game — allowing Wondolowski to Wondo right by him in midfield and get off a powerful shot which missed the entire goal. Arsenal fans have huge expectations for Xhaka and I worry that if he doesn’t sparkle almost right from the start the patience will run out. He did redeem himself with a left footed blast from 35 yards. Fans love to see Arsenal players take those shots and I have no doubt Wenger will have a word with him and put an end to it.
The Jeff showed some nice touches and Iwobi showed some trickery in place of Ox. And then with almost the final kick of the game, Monreal burst down the left and played in a cross that Akpom had to score. It was the perfect end to the game.
Now, on to Monday’s match against Chivas. This will be a much more difficult test as Chivas are an actual team and not some puzzle made up of pieces from dozens of boxes.
*I’ve heard this expression used by many professional broadcasters and always thought it was a bit weird. My friends swear that it comes from that scene in Platoon where they “do the whole village”. In other words, they murder civilians. Why on earth would we say that? I prefer to think of it like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing through the whole village.