Monday, July 21, 2014

Boreham Wood 0 Arsenal 2 (Pre-season Friendly)

Arsenal got off to the winning start after Kris Olsson's goal and Benik Afobe's penalty sealed a 2-0 victory against their local friends, Boreham Wood. Arsenal struggled to break down the Conference South side's well-organised defence. Boreham Wood didn't look like scoring, especially in the second half when Damian Martinez had no save to make. The hard-fought victory was disappointing, but as Arsene Wenger pointed out in his post-match interview, the most important thing was to get everybody up to a good fitness level without getting anybody injured.

As well as the youth players who are hopeful of breaking into the first team, a few senior players also had points to prove. The signing of Mathieu Debuchy meant that Carl Jenkinson had to show how he deserved regular starts and Nacho Monreal was in the same situation for the left-back position as he fell down the pecking order last season. Abou Diaby had to prove his fitness, while Mathieu Flamini needed to show his worth as the the Club is reportedly looking for a new defensive midfielder. Francis Coquelin might be in an even more desperate situation after his unsuccessful loan spell at Freiberg last season amid the speculation that he might be sold this summer.

What we learnt from this game is that Arsene Wenger is unlikely to change his formation this season. He deployed the same 4-2-3-1 shape for both halves with a lone striker up front (Chuba Akpom mostly operated on the left wing). That said, it's probably too early to come to any conclusion yet. As many of the regular starters are still on holiday after World Cup duty, the line-up was far from what it will look like at the start of the new season. In particular, we had no senior centre-backs as Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Thomas Vermaelen were yet to return to training.

First half team: Szczesney, Jenkinson - Ajayi - Haydon - Monreal, Ramsey - Coquelin, Zelalem - Toral - Willock, Sanogo

As Aaron Ramsey led the starting XI as captain, he was a massive presence in the first half. Szczesny expressed his huge admiration for Manuel Neuer during the World Cup and the Germany goalkeeper's influence on the young Pole was clear when he rushed out of his area to head the ball out of the Boreham Wood player's path (If he continues to play a sweeper role like this, we will have a nerve-wracking season). Coquelin was arguably the most impressive player in the first half, mopping up loose balls in midfield. But it was only against a Conference side. Weather his performance was enough to convince Wenger to keep hold of him is still to be seen. Gedion Zelalem was somewhat disappointing as we were hoping to see him replicate last pre-season's display. Perhaps it's because he was played out of position, but all the outfield players have to play on the wings at some stages of their career at Arsenal unless you are an established centre-back. Having said that, Zelalem showed a glimpse of his potential when he made a clever lofted pass into the box, to which Sanogo could not beat the defenders. Jon Toral appeared to have grown physically, but he should have scored when his effort hit the woodwork after receiving Sanogo's lay off in a great position. Sanogo got in great positions on numerous occasions, but his first touches let him down.

Second half team: Martinez, Bellerin - Pleguezuelo - Miquel - Gibbs, Flamini - Diaby, Olssson - Rosicky  Akpom, Afobe

In the 68th minute, Kris Olsson broke the deadlock as he dinked the ball in one-on-one with the keeper after being released behind the defence by Tomas Rosicky's perfectly weighted through ball. The 19-year-old Swede was involved in everything good Arsenal have created. Hector Bellerin was lively going forward, delivering a few good crosses into the box. The Spanish right-back's defensive reputation has not been brilliant, but he had little to do defensively this afternoon and when he was called upon at the back, Olsson helped him. Bellerin made a few good interception, too. Perhaps his loan stint at Watford was beneficial. Chuba Akpom caught the eye with his trickery and quick feet, posing a threat every time he went near the box. He was unlucky not to score when his effort forced a fingertip save from the Boreham Wood keeper, James Russell. After his wonderful run into the box, beating two defenders, his tempting cross led Luke Garrad to bundle Benik Afobe, resulting in a penalty. Afobe converted it coolly. Abou Diaby showed a flash of what a fit Diaby would be like when his fierce drive from outside the box was tipped over by Russell.

Wenger didn't give his assessment of the players in the post-match press conference and the media were more interested in off-the-pitch issues. The Frenchman's comments made the headlines on the next day on several points: Arsenal's transfers are far from done yet. He is working on more signings and another goalkeeper is a cert. He was not so sure about Thomas Vermaelen's future, though, stating that he cannot guarantee that the Belgian defender will stay at the club and should he go, the boss will certainly bring in another centre-back. The Frenchman wouldn't comment on Jack Wilshere's smoking incident until he has spoken to the England midfielder. He is going to speak to him in the following week. Asked about the claim that Cesc Fabregas did not want to rejoin Arsenal (made by Jose Mourinho, apparently), the boss only commented that the former Arsenal captain "landed where he wanted to go".

This week, some of the players who participated in the World Cup will return to training: namely, Wilshere, the Ox and Santi (and Joel Campbell reportedly). Then later this week Arsenal will fly to New York for promotional events and a friendly against Thierry Henry's New York Red Bulls. The second pre-season friendly is expected to be more competitive.