Barcelona 2 – 1 Arsenal
About a week ago, social media was awash with criticism of those who thought the £72m spent on Nicolas Pepe was better spent on sorting the defence out. As the saying goes, those comments didn’t age well.
That’s a little harsh on the performance for this was a game of two distinct halves for Arsenal. The composed, disciplined interlopers of the opening forty-five minutes gave way to the last season’s Arsenal. Timid, loose with possession and frankly, all over the shop. A look at what we might achieve to what we will look like.
We even got the horror show of the Chambers / Mustafi axis in the centre of defence. Of course, the winning goal came in this period, with Mustafi ambling toward a gap and Chambers too deep to stop Suarez’s excellent finish. No Joe Willock saving lunge to clear the ball off the line this time.
The criticism for that goal is nothing compared to the defensive cock-up which gifted Barca the equaliser. Thank god Maitland-Niles got that one out of his system before the trip to Newcastle. It reinforces the point that he isn’t a right-back; he knows it, we know it, does Unai? Faced with the alternative of Carl Jenkinson, AMN is going to carry on until Hector Bellerin returns.
At that point, his Arsenal career hits a brick wall. He’s been overtaken in the midfield stakes by just about everyone. I honestly don’t see where AMN fits in unless there is an injury crisis.
Jekyll and Hide
It’s almost impossible to see him being given a fair crack of the whip in his favoured role with the current squad which I think is a shame. He’s earned it for the hard yards he’s put in out of position for several seasons. However, sentiment and football are uneasy bedfellows.
All of which is at odds with the Arsenal that began the game.
Crisp passing produced results as the pressing game worked well. The back four held a strong line and Barcelona found the going tough. Fielding a 12-year-old didn’t help their cause. You don’t judge your age by policemen looking younger these days; it’s footballers, especially the ones who look like they did a bunk out of their bedroom window to get a game.
Ozil, in particular, looked fresh and sharp which is not something I thought I’d say after an away game. His linking with Mkhitaryan showed what was possible, ably supported the continually impressive Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, whose form improves with every game.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the show, however, with the opening goal. A thunderous strike, it threw off the shackles of pre-season and served as a warning to the Premier League: he’s found his shooting boots.
Crucially, the first-half performance underlined how we must play to get the most out of Nicolas Pepe. He’s ideal for away games if we’re going to build from the back. Sokratis’ value is in organisation; Chambers looked far more confident next to the Greek than Mustafi. However, the young Englishman has much to learn, creating as much uncertainty in Maitland-Niles as Barcelona swarmed over the defence.
Thumb Twiddlers of the World Unite
It’s important we don’t lose sight of the positives from the first half as much as the horror show of the second forty-five minutes dominates. The development of the youngsters this summer has been impressive and continued last night. We have a bright future but jam tomorrow is a hackneyed phrase around Arsenal; we’ve been promised the earth too many times before.
Maybe Martinelli, Saka, Willock, Nelson & co are the ones who will deliver?
Now the fixture is over reality bites. As opposed to Luis Suarez, who I thought at one point had bitten his nails so hard that he ate this thumb.
Philippe Coutinho isn’t coming to Arsenal, not that anyone seriously thought he would. His agent said he wouldn’t, so that’s that. The Transfer Window Action Team can now turn their attention to the defence. If Edu and Raul thought we could muddle through the opening games with the current defensive options, that second half was a rude awakening.
I don’t think they believe that anyway. Knowing negotiations are ongoing for Koscielny and reports Mustafi is about to do one mean we need reinforcements. As I said yesterday, I don’t think Kieran Tierney’s injury will stop our pursuit of his signature. Nor will any amount of Bhoys fans painting their faces blue and shouting “For freedom!” At least their accents will be more credible than Mel Gibson’s.
In a normal summer, the absence of names being thrown around would cause concern. Rugani is a persistent rumour but few others are. However, after the ‘shock and awe’ swoop for Nicolas Pepe – forget the confirmation which took longer than the average Pope’s lifespan – changed the game. Discretion is the byword, in the early stages of a deal anyway.
Until Friday, of course, when nobody else comes in and then we’ll know the silence meant the suits were just sitting around twiddling their thumbs…