Arsenal 1 – 0 VFL Wolfsburg
1 – 0 Walcott (50)
Arsenal hoisted The Emirates Cup with victory over Wolfsburg reversing the clubs’ trend in recent editions of the competition to screw things up on Sunday. Only Mesut Özil remained of the team which swamped Lyon twenty-four hours before and as expected, the performance lacked cohesion and fluidity during the opening half.
The Germans had the better of the opening exchanges, forcing more corners in forty-five minutes than the defence practices in a week of training. But once they were dealt with, Arsenal came more into the game. Petr Cech had a busier home début than he was expecting with his manager praising the calm he brought to proceedings,
He has top-level experience and he is a good communicator. He brings a sort of calmness as well in the way he responds the situation but he helped to lift the confidence of our defenders.
It’s a calmness which might be tested if the defence offers that much time and space to their opponents. Nicklas Bendtner ought to have done better with a presentable opportunity. Perhaps he was disarmed by the welcome he received from the crowd, definitely different to the derision he may have been expecting.
Theo Walcott settled the match. Relatively ineffective in the first half, he was set free by Reine-Adelaide – or ‘Jeff’ as he will surely become known if for no other reason to save wearing down the fingers of the multides – and having found the space, applied the finish to break the deadlock shortly after the break. Arsenal were more purposeful after half-time and ended up deserving the win. The cohesion missing from the first half was more evident in the second where Wolfsburg were pressed more quickly in possession and obligingly, gave the ball away more frequently.
It was a good warm-up for the second string – or this tournaments’ second XI – and possibly better for the players than another rout. Jeff caught the eye and the media hyperbole. It’s as much the part of the pre-season as transfer gossip, for an Arsenal youngster to be hailed as the Second Coming. A year or two in the Under-21s awaits, according to Arsène, with the club keeping a watchful eye on his development rather than sending him on loan. ‘The next Zelalem’ was one tag appended; given we have yet to see the first, it seems premature.
Arsène was pleased with the pre-season so far, particularly from the weekend,
We had two different teams, two good games, everybody played well, we have no injuries and we had clean sheets. The young players who played were convincing as well so you could see that it’s a photo of the present and of the future as well. The team spirit is very good as well so everything is positive.
Or to put it more succinctly, job done.
Next weekend’s Community Shield clash with Chelsea has the potential to be more meaningful but like The Emirates Cup, it is still a pre-season friendly. The venue and history make it seem more important but that ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card in the event of defeat, remains. After yesterday’s game, Arsène noted,
The aim of the pre-season is to prepare to be efficient for the Premier League so come back in one month and I will tell you. The preparation is mentally good, physically as well but the real truth starts on the August 8 against West Ham here and that’s where we want to be efficient but the preparation has gone well so far.
In terms of results, I am sure they fuel optimism but the opposition has been such so far that any defeat would probably have sent a tiny array of alarm bells ringing. It’s important that we keep some sense of reality. The squad is coming together nicely and with Alexis to return next week, the XI will be stronger but there is still a sense that some business is to be done in the transfer market. Yesterday emphasized that, particularly in the defensive midfield role.
Mikel Arteta has a fine range of passing but Wolfsburg had too much time and space; they weren’t harried as Lyon had been. The caveat is obviously that the midfield as a whole was stronger on Saturday but they all have core roles to fulfil, which is the concern.
Arsenal performed much better with Coquelin’s terrier-like presence last season. It wasn’t just down to him before you say but it was one of the pivotal changes. If anything happens – loss of form, injury – there isn’t a like-for-like replacement. Much as I like Arteta as a player, that isn’t his style but it is the one which suits Arsenal at the moment. That’s not to cast him aside easily but for a longer term of more than a game or two, it does seem to be a flaw in the squad but probably the ‘risk’ Arsène is willing to take as he did previously when going into a season with three centre backs.
Ray Parlour offered the view that this was the best squad since The Invincibles. That is probably true; it’s certainly the one with the most expectation in terms of challenging for the title in what is a more competitive environment. Parlour noted that injuries may prove to be crucial this time around. “They need to steer clear of injuries“, he said. “Last season, if the injury list was a bit lighter at certain times then they would have been a lot closer.”
Like Parlour, Arsène thinks Cech is going to be crucial. At times yesterday, Wolfsburg exerted a lot of pressure but the back four didn’t wilt. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to assume that in previous years they would have conceded but Cech kept organising and talking to them. It was a key difference; in the Premier League, it might be crucial.
It was a good weekend for Arsenal. A bit of a feelgood factor from two wins and two clean sheets; Arsène couldn’t have asked for any more than that.