Okay, so when a collection of stars includes a 32 year old Christian Benteke, it might be a bit early to pencil Arsenal in as putative or prohibitive favorites to win Prem even if the 5-0 scoreline might flatter our American hosts. Still, it was impressive to see just how dominant, how silky, how expressive we were. Even as we remind ourselves that it just a preseason friendly against a squad thrown together just a few days prior, tantalising, mouth-watering thoughts are hard to resist.
Rather than suggest that we’re anywhere close to going another season unbeaten—an amazing feat in its own right and something far-more difficult in this day and age— let’s just pump the brakes and enjoy a few key takeaways from the match (reminding ourselves again of the context).
First, Jurriën Timber. He came on for Saliba in the 64th minute and took up the RB position. Almost immediately, he popped up in the MLS box with a half-chance at chipping a cross, but the defender managed to close down. He then won the ball on our left side and carried it forward. He was strong in defense (not that there was much to do) and looked confident carrying the ball forward and picking out passes. With him on the right and Zinchenko on the left, each inverting and linking up with Havertz and Ødegaard who in turn feed Martinelli and Saka, defenses are going to have a hard, hard time. Arteta has talked about making us less predictable, and Timber looks to be a very important player for making that happen.
Balogun came on and did impress with his pressing and his hold-up play, two areas he’ll need to continue to improve upon if he’s serious about playing more here or leading the line for the likes of Inter. His touch was frequently off, misplacing passes or hitting them too soft. There wasn’t a moment that made me perk up with excitement. If I had to make a decision about what to do with Balogun just on his play last night, I’d sell him. That is of course a bit rash, but he has to know that these preseason matches are going to go a long way toward determining his future.
Rice was good but didn’t have a whole lot to do despite being in the middle of the pitch. Most of his touches were one-touch passes as he seemed content to ping the ball around, and this did show that he’s already getting familiar with where to find teammates. He had one potentially scintillating moment late on when Ødegaard passed across the edge of the area to Havertz, who dummied it for Rice—but his shot deflected off of Miazga. The shot had some venom in it, and I suspect we’ll be seeing Rice tear holes in more than a few nets sooner rather than later.
Havertz also came on late and reminded me of early, “good” Özil before he faded away—some good pressing but without much tackling, intelligent movement off the ball, a few clever passes, and, by contrast to Özil, Havertz even scored with a smart volley from Marquinhos, chesting down and blazing it home. Again, it was just a preseason friendly, but Havertz has got to feel good to break his duck. Doing so now makes it much easier to do it for real once the season starts, especially after struggling in the “cross and volley” challenge earlier in the week.
We’ll have a potentially more revealing clash on Saturday when we take on Man U, who have been very quiet in the transfer window aside from signing Mason Mount (and Jonny Evans), parting ways with David de Gea, shopping Harry Maguire around, and naming Bruno Fernandes their new captain. Even if it is just another preaseason friendly, I really do hope we thrash them thoroughly.