One can not feel but a sense of surrealism at not seeing Arsene Wenger lead Arsenal into the new season. For 22 years the Frenchman managed the Gunners, but in recent years lethargy and apathy seeped into the club, impacting their performances and leading to Wenger’s departure. In comes Unai Emery, with many intrigued to see how Spaniard fares, especially with his first league game against the league champions Manchester City. A stern test it would prove as the Gunners were well beaten 2-0 as reality kicked at the Emirates.
As such there was a lot of notes to take from the game.
Wings And A Prayer
Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a chastening 35 minutes at left back. At times he was swarmed by Riyad Mahrez and the overlapping Kyle Walker from full back. To his credit, Maitland Niles toiled manfully against the twin threat, but at times was given little protection. Hector Bellerin on the right was also tested by the dangerous Raheem Sterling who scored the opener thanks to Arsenal’s players allowing him to cut inside and shoot.
Arsenal may have ceded the wings to try and stop City go through the middle, where so many teams have been ripped apart, but it made little difference as they stamped their authority in the first half. The league champions absorbed Arsenal’s positive start in the second half and killed the game by doubling their lead: Bernando Silva finishing off a lovely team move from their own half. Once again the wings were Arsenal’s downfall, as Mendy simply picked out Silva from the left wing.
Same Old Jitters
The Gunners looked jittery at times but they didn’t help themselves. At times they were trying to play from the back, which led City to press relentlessly, causing frustrated groans from restless fans when Arsenal lost possession. The sound of ironic cheers when Petr Cech decided to kick long instead of playing a short pass spoke volumes. Cech nearly scored a calamitous own goal when pressed but his scuffed pass went narrowly wide. It’s imperative for Arsenal to cut out the self inflicted errors that hurt them so egregiously over the last few seasons.
Guendouzi’s Baptism Of Fire
Six weeks ago Matteo Guendouzi was preparing for pre-season at Lorient. It’s been a whirlwind journey for the midfielder, as Arsenal signed him for £8m and impressed many with his performances in pre-season. A starting spot against Man City was just reward and he certainly didn’t look out of place. It was a mixed day for the youngster, being caught in possession at times, as well as making a error that nearly led to Aguero scoring if not for Cech’s save.
But Guendouzi showed glimpses of why he was signed, his hunger to drive forward, his passing range and desire to retain possession. From Arsenal’s players he had the most touches and drew the most fouls. Undoubtley a promising talent at just 19.
Arsenal Still A Work In Progress
It was a chastening experience for Unai Emery but there were some positives to take. When Arsenal are able to transition effectively from defence to attack they do look a potent threat – notably the first 15 minutes of the second half. Lacazette was dangerous when he came off the bench before Man City doubled their lead.
Arsenal are at the start of a journey under Emery and there will be painful days. Things don’t get any easier, as the Gunners play Chelsea on Saturday at Stamford Bridge. Lucas Torreria will likely start: the Uruguayan’s cameo showed he can bring steel as well as an outstanding array of passes from midfield. Furthermore, Torreria should provide ample protection for Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, whose lack of pace is a cause of concern.
Change is never as easy or seamless but Arsenal fans will hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.