“Let gentleness my strong enforcement be”

Pre-season friendlies can often be summed up by saying “what little we learned, we already knew”. More than a lesson, they are often a refresher. Like the first few weeks of math class, where you spend hours going over the things you learned last term, in order to prepare you for the year ahead. And so it was as the Arsenal collected a 3-1 victory over our gracious stateside hosts the AFC Orlando City SC Balompie Real United.

Kickoff was delayed an hour due to torrential rain, giving those of us in the 7am house quite the chuckle as Brits who wanted to watch live were forced to stay up until 0130 for kickoff and 0330 for conclusion. I chuckle in commiseration, not spite. To paraphrase Billy talking to Gloria in White Men Can’t Jump “I too know what it feels like to watch Arsenal at ungodly hours of the day”.

As we waited for kickoff I watched part of the first half of Everton against Minnesota United FC. The Toffies were getting crushed by the Loons, who would eventually go on to win 4-0 and leave “Frank Lampard fuming at his players”.

Switching over to the Arsenal I let out an audible laugh at the first half lineup. Not at the players themselves but more for what they represent among many vocal folks in our fanbase. Holding, Cedric, Elneny, Tavares, Pablo Mari, PEPE, and Maitland-Niles are a veritable Rogues Gallery of players a lot of fans would like to see sold or at least loaned out “to get experience (away from the Arsenal first team and thereby force the club to buy new players)”.

But nothing I’m saying here is fresh or news. We all know the level of Arsenal’s reserve team and that it needs improvement and it’s not a major shock to suggest that a starting three-man midfield of Elneny, Maitland-Niles, and Lokonga (especially with Tavares at LB, Cedric at RB, and with Mari and Holding trying to start play from the back) would be less than ideal, even in a group match in the Europa League.

And frankly, it showed. Holding got a yellow in the first minute for a pull. Maitland-Niles had one of his matches where his touch was unbelievably bad and his passing somehow worse (he also got a yellow card for pulling a shirt) and Tavares had another match to forget – though some of the shots he took will live on in my memory for a while, just for their sheer hilarity.

Arsenal’s lobe bright spot in that first half was G11. Picking the ball up and driving at defenders is his bread and butter, and he did that with aplomb. He scored a lucky goal off a deflection in the 5th minute but overall it was probably what he deserved from his efforts.

The first half was also interesting from a tactical standpoint. Sometimes, the players with less ability can show you the manager’s tactics much more starkly because they are just that little bit more obvious with what they are doing. Almost like they are saying in their minds “ok, now I need to make this run forward” or “boss says keep the line high, play brave” and so they do.

First, Arteta clearly had the left and right sided midfielders high up the pitch. Sambi Lokonga assisted G11 Martinelli with his goal by literally posting up in the low block and playing a one-two with the Brazilian. Meanwhile on the other side of the pitch, Maitland-Niles was caught offside several times.

And the Arsenal back line was caught incredibly high up the pitch on a few occasions in that half (and in the second, though not quite as high), one time all 10 Arsenal outfield players were in the Orlando (BSC) half which allowed a simple pass (unchallenged) through to Michel for a one-v-one with Ramsdale. Michel probably should have scored but Ramsdale made a kick save (and a beaut) to deny the goal.

Orlando did score eventually with another long pass, though this time the problem was poor communication between Pablo Mari, Tavares, and Elneny. No one really got tight to Torres and he got off a shot that was partly shielded and perfectly placed to get past Ramsdale and nestle into the bottom corner. Ramsdale was not pleased with that effort!

The second half was, again, no news, though the football was much more fun to watch. Arteta brought on G9 and Ø8 with some immediate effect. Jesus is a very direct player, he seems to revel in taking on opponents. This causes teams to collapse on him and ill-disciplined defenders to double or even triple-team him. All of which makes the game easier for his teammates: spaces are more open when three players crater on Jesus.

And yet, Arsenal still hadn’t quite gotten the go-ahead goal so Arteta – in a bid to show the Kroenke’s (who were at the game) that he needs some reinforcements* – threw on X34, P5, William Saliba, and Bukayo Saka.

It wasn’t long before having a lot of our best players in their best position suddenly made Arsenal best. Nketiah scored the 2nd Arsenal goal, again with everyone in the Orlando defense focused on Jesus (G9) which freed up space for Ø8 and N14 to work a little magic. And for the third goal it was Saka drawing in defenders and crossing a delightful chipped cross to Reiss Nelson who just popped the ball in while the Orlando defenders still hung on G9.

Overall it was a good workout for Arsenal and preparation for the bigger friendly this weekend against Chelsea.

If I’m going to be worried for the season ahead, I’d say it’s patently obvious that Arsenal have a major problem in midfield (still). X34 isn’t really suited to the LCM role and can’t really play the DM role the way that Partey can (though he’s a strong player who is better than most of our options). None of the backups so far have proven themselves to be good enough either. No one hates Elneny but his defense is poor at best. Lokonga is the one I thought we were trying to bring along in the DM role but it hasn’t worked so far. I’m not saying that anyone is “crap”, rather that the drop off in levels between Partey and anyone else in that role is glaringly obvious. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except that Partey has averaged 25 90s each season he’s been at Arsenal. If (touch wood) he stays healthy for all 50 matches this season, no problem. If not.. well.

But like I said from the start, I don’t think this is news to anyone. This is the exact problem we had last season and a major reason why we missed out on top four.


*I don’t really believe this but it is something people say all the time!


  1. Hopefully Zinchenko replaces Xhaka in the starting lineup. Moving him on outright and bringing in Tielemans seems almost too much to hope for at this point, but they’re clearly on some kind of warpath this window, so who knows.

    Also, thanks for saying Xhaka’s name rather than refer to the “left 8 problem” as some have taken to doing. I’m not a fan of the guy, but he’s a person! 🙂

    1. HA! I noticed that people were saying “left 8 problem” a lot today and thought it was exceptionally weird.

  2. Lovely titled piece….looking forward to see some beautifully created build up play leading to GOALS.

  3. Xhaka, for all his faults, is not one of the players I’d prioritize moving on. He’s not terrible, mostly stays healthy, can play adequately in several different positions, and appears to provide some senior leadership. Those are all things that will help with more matches on the schedule this season, and Partey’s injury record.
    Hopefully Zinechenko can also provide CDM cover, and maybe even Ben White in a pinch?

    1. The amount of points lost each season because of Xhaka’s inaptitude (whether due to his brain farts or simply a lack of speed and mobility) is truly xhaking (yes, it’s an actual word now). I don’t care if he can stay healthy all season, and play more games than anyone else. If we have serious ambitions, he should not be involved in any meaningful games. Better yet, he should be sold (still can’t believe that he hasn’t been shipped off after the incident involving flipping the fans off and subsequently losing captaincy).

  4. G11. Love it.

    Hope that no one goes to the Arsenal dressing room door and says, “Gabriel, can I see you for a moment, please?”

    Not only does Jesus draw a crowd (no pun) he’s a very intelligent assister and user of supporting runners. Notwithstanding the lingering problems in midfield, I think Im going to enjoy our attacking play. Maybe we intend to Harlem Globetrotters teams to death.

    Liking what Im seeing of pre-season Eddie, and his ability to make runs off a too-tight defender. If oppo CBs will give Gabriel as much love as we saw yesterday, Eddie could be doing a lot of cleaning up.

    On being overly-dependent on Partey staying fit, spot on. To me, the one area in which we need to make a “wow” signing is central midfield. That’d immediately put Sambi on the loan market, but so be it. On the evidence so far, our rotation would work because Partey hasnt shown he’s robust enough to stay injury-free for long. Plus he’ll play for Ghana in Qatar, and goodness knows what state squads will be in after the WC.

    1. OMG. I haven’t even factored in the post-WC madness.

      Probably can just go ahead right now and throw out all predictions for how the league will shape up after January.

  5. “All of which makes the game easier for his teammates: spaces are more open when three players crater on Jesus.”

    Nailed it once again Tim. Goal totals for Saka, G11 and Eddie should rise considerably. Or ESR depending on where/ whether he plays.

    Ben white as RB looked pretty amazing. I suspect he will be cover for Tomi and rotate as CB. There’s a lot more flexibility in the back line with Wilo there, who looked beast-like.

    Agree with you and Claude that we desperately need Partey backup. In Elneny’s defense, he looked much worse playing with the Shop Window 11 yesterday than he did with the starters in Spring, but I will be much happier to get a quality Mfer to bolster the team. The hope is starting to kill me already!

        1. Fire. Fire. Set them on fire.

          (Dead Milkmen, if you love somebody set them on fire).

    1. i’d keep him and resign to protect value, myself. from our current squad, i’d sell leno, runarsson, mari, cedric, and torreira, and loan balugun and marquinhos. that’d leave us with a squad of 26:

      ramsdale, turner, okonkwo
      bellerin, tomi, white, saliba, g6, holding, tierney, tavares
      partey, elneny, lokonga, xhaka, odegaard, amn
      g9, g11, saka, smith rowe, nketiah, pepe, vieira, nelson

      for me, that looks really solid.

      if/when we sign zinchenko i’d look for a loan for tavares, somewhere of a high standard where we know he’ll get a full season’s minutes under his belt since he only has 30 combined 90s across 3 seasons of senior football so far.

      if it would allow us to bring in another midfielder (the ones i wanted most, kessie or adams, have moved already, but i’d trust our scouts to identify someone who can play 6 or 8 and improve the squad) i’d be open to bellerin or pepe leaving.

        1. I’d expect Hector and AMN to leave along with tavares one way or another this window. Pepe I think will sit on his contract. If we can move them on I’d expect at least one more signing or Charlie patino is added to the first team

          1. The defense collapsing on Jesus leaving us more room for the others is key. But that also means we are counting on Saka and maybe ESR both continuing their goal scoring form. Aided by Fabio Vieira, and Martinelli and Odegaard stepping up.

            Also, I wonder if we can keep up our goalscoring from set pieces this season or if other teams – not coached by Lampard – will be able to prepare and cope with them.

            Gabriel Jesus will be key and hopefully our prime goalscorer with 20+ league goals but Eddie will be the difference maker in us reaching the 75 goal threshold.

            My targets for the season for Arsenal are Top 4 and scoring 75 goals. They’re both optimistic but also achievable. I can’t wait for pre season to be over and the football season to begin.

      1. What a novel concept!

        Speaking of which.. what happened to the novel you were going to write?

        And this time I meant to reply. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.

          1. Disappointed to hear that. You write well, Tim. Not trying to tell you what to do of course, but maybe give it another shot one of these days.

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