Well, this one didn’t quite live up to its billing, but that’s not entirely Arsenal’s fault. We came to play, and play we did. Barcelona, meanwhile, showed up with the bus parked and the Pulis-era tactics on full display. The final scoreline doesn’t do justice to how thoroughly we dominated this match. But for a Saka miss from the spot and a few other fluffed chances, we might have won this one in our sleep. Yes, it was just a preseason friendly, and, yes, it was Barca’s first of the summer after numerous players got that uneasy, queasy feeling, but it had the feeling of something just a bit fiestier.
The Catalans showed up wearing white for the first time in almost fifty years, perhaps hoping that they could borrow a bit of an intimidation factor from their own rivals, but the effect was quite the opposite as Xavi’s side were simply but thoroughly outplayed from the off. Their three goals notwithstanding, there weren’t too many takeaways here, other than that White is not a terrific defender against pacey wingbacks, Ramsdale has some sharpening up to do, Saka is going to absolutely terrorise opposing defenders, and Trossard and Timber might just turn out to be the best signings in recent memory (if we’re to judge on a fee: production ratio).
In the pre-match, we fretted about the catch-22 we faced. Barca, playing their first preseason friendly after cancelling their previous one against Juve due to that bout of gastroenteritis, could have played the role of the wounded, cornered beast, and that they did to some effect. A defeat to this underprepared and overly ill side might have been disastrous. By the time Fabio Vieira lashed home to make it 5-3, there was little doubt about which was the superior side, and the only real question was what the scoreline could have and perhaps should have been.
Goals from Saka, Havertz, Trossard (2), and Vieira capped off a brilliant evening even as they papered over a few cracks. Ramsdale, as I mentioned, will have to sharpen up as he was too easily beaten on at least the second of Barca’s three goals, which took a deflection that wrong-footed him. Beyond that, his distribution was erratic even if he did assist Trossard’s first goal. Our defending will have to improve even if few squads in the world can counter as well as Barca’s can. Despite starting a strong back line that included Timber, Magalhães, Saliba, and White, we were too often caught out against long balls and through balls. Perhaps Declan Rice will play a role there, but personnel is only part of the problem. We’re going to face plenty of sides whose tactics will come down to the ol’ hoof-‘n-hope, and that approach only has to work once or twice to make all the difference.
Well, that was wonderful. A good time was had by all. I’m pooped. It’s not often that such a fiesty friendly is played at this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localised entirely—well, you get the drift. At least we got to see it, if we were willing to stay up until the wee hours.