Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Arsenal 0 Monaco 1 (Emirates Cup)

As Valencia beat Benfica 3-1 in the early kick-off, Arsenal only needed a draw to claim the first Emirate Cup win in four years.

Team: Szczesny, Debuchy (Bellerin 90), Chambers (Miquel 46), Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere (Flamini 73), Cazorla (Zelalem 73), Sanchez (Akpom 73), Giroud (Oxlade-Chamberlain 46)

Monaco was expected to present a sterner test and Wenger responded to the prospect by fielding a strong side. Replace Monreal with Gibbs, and this could be a starting line-up to face Crystal Palace in Arsenal's Premier League opener as Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski are set to miss the start of the season.

The previous day's euphoria was quickly fading as Arsenal started the game at a pedestrian pace. Debuchy, Koscielny, Giroud and Sanchez only joined training this week, while the other players were still physically recovering from Saturday's high-tempo game against Benfica. Arsenal struggled to create chances. The best of those half chances fell to Giroud and Chambers, but the former tumbled when he had only the keeper to beat and the latter blasted high. Giroud was not ready at all by his own admission  and the manager. In the 37th minute, Monaco took the lead through a free-kick, which was given as a result of Jack Wilshere's lunge that also saw the England midfielder booked. Unmarked Falcao headed home from close range. This was the second time we conceded from set-pieces in two days. Some blame zonal marking for this, but it seems that miscommunication or in fact, a lack of communication seemed to be the problem. Whoever  Chambers or Miquel pairs up with Koscielny in central defence before Mertesacker return, somebody (naturally, more experienced Koscielny) should take a leadership and organise defence against set-pieces.

The introduction of the Ox in place of Giroud livened up the game in the second half. The English midfielder injected what the team needed, "some penetration and some power" according to Wenger. This was a cue for Alexis to play through the middle. Wenger explained that he had to take Giroud off at half time as he was not fit, but his post-match interview on the previous day suggested that Alexis playing a centre-forward role at some stages of the Monaco game was always part of his plan. Alexis was more involved in his new position after playing on the flanks for 45 minutes.

The major talking point of the game was the ref's decision. As Zelalem's pass sent a lively Chuba Akopm clear, the young English striker was brought down by the Monaco keeper Subasic. The referee, Martin Atkinson initially pointed the spot, but an assistant referee contradicted his decision. Replays showed clearly that the contact was made inside the area. We were cursing our luck all through last season, asking what would have to happen for Arsenal to be given a penalty, but if you don't get a right decision in your favour in your home tournament, what chance have you got? Arsene Wenger also questioned the referee's final decision to change his mind as the referee was in a better position to witness the incident but he still allowed his assistant referee's decision to overrule his. A 1-1 draw would have seen the north London leapfrog Valencia with 10 points and win the first trophy of the season. Still, if this was all the bad luck we get this season, we would happily take it for a pre-season friendly defeat.

This was our first chance to watch Mathieu Debucy in Arsenal colours. In the press conference prior to the Emirates Cup, Wenger looked back at those financially restrained years. The move to replace Bacary Sagna with a proven Premier League right-back signals Arsenal's new era and indicates Wenger's intent for title challenge. In those days, the Club would have resorted to "internal resources"(i.e., giving a chance to a young player or converting a player to the required position). The former Newcastle right-back's performance was not eye-catching, but he didn't put his foot wrong, either. It was a solid display in his first appearance as an Arsenal player. He suffered cramp towards the end of the game and clearly he was not 100% fit. Arsene Wenger assured fans that he would be better next week, so let's hope the boss will be right.

Jack Wilshere has shown some improvement over the previous game. He was one of the worst players on the pitch on Saturday along with Mikel Arteta, but at least Wilshere got himself in great positions in this match. Wenger's post-match interview suggests that the English midfielder might be at the stage where Aaron Ramsey was two seasons ago. After fully recovering from a serious injury, he now needs playing time. But where do you play Wilshere? Who would you bench in place of him? Wenger made it clear that he will not use Wilshere as a holding midfielder, so that's a relief. Hopefully, we are still looking for a defensive midfielder. 

Calum Chambers had another solid game. Aside from the argument as to who should have been looking after Falcao in that set-piece, he kept the £53million striker fairly quiet after that. Wenger described the 19-year-old defender's performance as one of the biggest positives from this pre-season tournament.

The result was disappointing, but it's only a pre-season friendly. Hopefully, the players will be in a better shape in one week's time and more understanding among the players will have developed by then.

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