Arsenal 5 – 1 Paris St-Germain
Thomas Tuchel took defeat particularly badly, it seems. The surprising choice for Paris St-Germain head coach – he has won fewer trophies than the now-departed Unai Emery – observed Arsenal’s future lay in the Europa League. Not to put too fine a point on it, but so does PSG’s if their performance was any kind of yardstick.
Which, of course, it isn’t.
Results like this are where people get carried away. We think we’re better than we are, we think PSG are worse than they are; neither is true. PSG will improve immeasurably on the performance once their first-team regulars return although they are still as far away as ever from winning the Champions League.
They are an object lesson in how to spend money badly. All the money in the world and their first-team bottle key moments in time. And they fell for Neymar’s marketing spiel or else were so blinded by his performance in the Camp Nou when PSG capitulated, that they forgot to do their homework on him.
Tuchel, we’re told, is mates with all the nightclub owners. Yeah, because being pals with the PSG manager is better for business than having the players in your club. Everything about the club lacks substance.
Jesus, if I’m getting this upset by the comments in a pre-season friendly, this season is going to be a bundle of laughs when Mourinho and Sarri get going, isn’t it?
Anyway, what of our performance? I enjoyed it – for the most part – and it’s churlish to pick holes in every little fault if I’m not going to accentuate the positives.
There were quite a few of them as well. No sooner had I almost begged Iwobi and Özil to deliver goals than the former drew a good save from Buffon and the latter scored.
We’re Gunner Win The League…
It was a generally good performance going forward. Positives in Aubameyang’s intelligent running, as well as our willingness to exploit his attribute. The commentary I listened to repeatedly called it ‘going direct’, which conjured up all sorts of ‘route one’ imagery. If that was the intention, ‘route one’ has changed a lot since I first watched it forty years ago.
Arsène would call it ‘efficient’, playing to your strengths. At the moment, we’re caught between the old and the new, which is no surprise. Expecting the players to immediately adapt to the new requirements is madness but when the action begins in earnest – where’s earnest? – they will be ready. Another two friendlies and a fortnight’s training.
Good finishing from Lacazette and Nketiah punished lax defending. Opportunistic poaching; everything you want from strikers. That Emery chose not to start both Lacazette and Aubameyang is a signal of how things will work in key away matches.
So, the attack is all good or where you’d to be at this point. Midfield is tougher to assess. Guendouzi caused the US commentators to come up with all manner of pronunciation save for Gwentheboatcomesin. He showed once again an eagerness for the ball and quick distribution. The exuberance of youth saw him caught out, surrendering possession cheaply on occasion, but experience eases that problem.
There’s no doubt that he’s exceeded expectations in the tour matches and it will be interesting to see how Emery uses him from now on when Xhaka will be available. The young Frenchman won’t usurp Ramsey or the Swiss from the starting line-up just yet but he offers something different from the bench.
Smith-Rowe, Maitland-Niles, and Nelson acquitted themselves well during all their appearances, be it from the start or off the bench. It’s promising for the new season.
And Now You’re Gunner Believe Us…
The League Cup and Europa League group stage will provide us with more evidence of their progress. I’d also expect them to get some Premier League action this season from the bench. Is it better for their experience than bossing an academy game? I think so, and with the Checkatrade Trophy matches, that trio plus Nketiah has the opportunity to learn their trade.
Defence is not so clear-cut. We displayed an alarming vulnerability to the ball played over the top, leading eventually to a dubious penalty. It’s by no means certain VAR would give the spot kick.
It’s by no means certain who our first-choice central defensive pairing is either. Sokratis will be one of them, a defender ‘raised’ in the pressing game Emery favours. Still vulnerable to pace, that’s for sure. He – like Bellerin – spoke about the work Emery has them doing.
“But with the new coach we work also on the situations when we don’t have the ball and this is very important.
“On the first day, the coach worked on this. With him, all the players work on tactics, we look a lot at videos, what was wrong, what we have to do better.
“I think and hope this year things at the back will be much better.”
By the time we face Manchester City, the first-choice pairing ought to be clear. Sokratis and Mavropanos/Mustafi seems likelies but if we go with a back three, those are three players may get the nod ahead of Holding and Chambers. We’ll get more idea in the next two games.
Leno’s distribution is far better than Cech’s, solving that problem. Martinez did well in his 45 minutes, sealing the third goalkeeping spot. Ospina, I’d venture, is the odd man out, not least because we can command a fee for him.
Do what exactly next season? I’m not sure yet. Going forward, we look good; sharp. Defensively, still vulnerable as we work out the pairings and basically, what we’re doing.
Emery was clear what he wants when talked about moving with a 4-4-2 press, but we’re not there yet. Two more games and a fortnight’s training doesn’t seem much time to get it right but it is what it is.
For the moment, the boxes were largely ticked by these two matches and credit is due for the results in the 90 minutes is due for both.