In this article series I will provide match analysis/reports for all of the pre-season games I attend live. Some of the detail documented will be directly beneficial for Fantasy Premier League and some will be more tactical based information or anecdotes.
Please Note: I also attended Brentford 1-3 Bournemouth (Match 4 – 27/07/19) however, Wilson, King and Fraser were all absent so a match report seemed unnecessary. For those interested, the standout Bournemouth player was Nathan Ake, whilst David Brooks did not put in his finest performance.
Match 5 – Arsenal 1-2 Lyon (28/07/19)
Arsenal lined up with the following XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Sokratis, Monreal, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Willock, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette.
Lacazette suffered an early injury to his ankle and after 13 minutes had passed, decided that he was unable to continue having initally tried to play on. Nelson stepped in to replace him. At half-time Guendouzi was replaced by Nketiah with further changes occuring during the 70th minute in which Ceballos, Martinelli and Mustafi replaced Willock, Mkhitaryan and Chambers respectively. The final 4 substitutions gave four squad players a short run-out. Burton, Medley, John-Jules and Jenkinson replaced Aubameyang, Monreal, Nelson and Maitland-Niles.
The number of substitutions coupled with experimentation from Emery meant that identifying a singular formation was next to impossible. A friend of mine (@tactic_fanatic) also attended the match and had the same difficulties in trying to distinguish a clear system throughout. A 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3 formation were all used at different points during the match. There was a lot of interchanging in the front-line and in the midfield, for example, Aubameyang found himself at right-wing, striker and left-wing at points in the match, Willock played multiple midfield roles, Nelson popped up on both wings and Mkhitaryan spent some time out wide and some time as part of a defensive phase midfield three. Therefore, instead of getting too bogged down into exact formations and positions, I will instead direct my focus towards the goals scored and highlight some individual performances from both teams.
Arsenal dominated for large parts of the game, with an overall possession of 55% as well as having 16 shots compared to Lyon’s 45% possession and 7 shots. However, domination does not win football matches and being clinical does and that is exactly what Lyon were and Arsenal were not.
The one moment of clinicality from Arsenal came from Aubameyang. Guendouzi recovered the ball on the right-hand side of the pitch, before Maitland-Niles picked up the ball and flicked it out wide to Mkhitaryan who drove forwards before drilling a low cross towards Aubameyang who was positioned just next to the penalty spot. The power generated on the cross gave Yanga-Mbiwa very little chance of reaching it before Aubameyang and the Gabonese man guided the ball on the volley with precision into the corner to the goalkeeper’s right-hand side.
Notable chances also fell to Nketiah, Nelson, Willock and Mkhitaryan, however, none of them were converted, something that Arsenal were ultimately punished for.
With Lyon a goal down at half-time, Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar were introduced at the start of the second half and both made a significant difference. At the same time, Guendouzi was taken off for Arsenal and after that, Arsenal’s midfield dominance deteriorated significantly.
Dembele was the definition of clinical, scoring 2 goals from 2 chances, turning the game on its head. The first of which came about from very strange circumstances in the build-up phase. Depay had the ball on the left-wing and simply stopped moving for a few seconds before passing the ball backwards. Aouar then received the ball and quickly played a pass back through to Depay who easily shifted the ball past Maitland-Niles and played a left-footed cross towards Dembele. The Frenchman found himself inexcusably unmarked in the box and directed a pinpoint header into the far corner past Leno at full stretch. Chambers was the man initally with Dembele but vacated this position for unknown reasons and failed to pick Dembele back up again in time and the ball was soon in the back of the net from what first appeared to be a ‘nothing on’ attack.
The second goal came about as a result of Arsenal’s high defensive line. Dembele played off the shoulder between Mustafi and Sokratis and Aouar was able to find a perfectly weighted pass to play him in-behind the Arsenal defence. Dembele then made no mistake with the finish, taking his time before passing the ball into the net past Leno. There was never any chance that either Sokratis or Mustafi could catch any of the Lyon forwards if the ball was played behind them and this cost them the match in the end. With Romelu Lukaku almost certain to leave Manchester United, I believe that Moussa Dembele has the appropriate qualities to be a viable replacement and would arguably suit Solskjaer’s system better due to his superior touch and mobility.
Aside from the obvious standout performance from Dembele, another player who really impressed me was Aouar. As mentioned, he registered the assist for the second goal with a well-weighted pass but aside from the goal, he was constantly looking for these passes in behind and out to the wings. He is such an accurate passer of the ball, is confident in possession, has very strong decision-making abilities between whether to dribble or pass, but also contributes significantly from a defensive perspective. His introduction to the game saw an immediate drastic improvement to Lyon’s midfield play and I would not be surprised to see him moving to a bigger club within the next year, much like his former teammate, Tanguy Ndombele, who moved to Spurs this summer.
There has been a lot of talk about the youngsters coming through at Arsenal, those at the forefront being Nketiah, Nelson and Willock. The best in this match at least by some margin for me was Nelson, who infused a real energy into the game. He was keen to take on defenders on both the left and right-hand side, doing so successfully more often than not. He played with great confidence, not afraid to risk giving up possession by being direct. He was a few misplaced passes and wrong final third decisions away from a faultless performance, a very encouraging sign for Unai Emery and Arsenal fans.
Willock also performed to a very high standard and was one of the best players in the first half. His dynamism was evident as he popped up in various positions throughout the game, operating in attacking and holding midfield roles as well as the wing at times when Arsenal dropped into a 4-3-3 defensive shape with Mkhitaryan, Guendouzi and Xhaka operating as the three in midfield. He had a number of chances to score, however he was unable to convert any of them, something which can definitely be worked on in his game if he is to be used in a more advanced role.
Nketiah has gained a lot of attention recently having scored twice against Fiorentina and once against Bayern Munich in previous pre-season matches. Unfortunately, he did not highlight all of his ability with his performance against Lyon. His best moment was a sharp turn in the box which engineered a shooting opportunity out of a initial tight space. However, Willock and Nelson each provided him with good crosses from both flanks, however Nketiah fluffed his lines with both chances, firstly making poor contact with a header and then a ball along the floor. There is undoubtedly potential as he has shown previously, but this match specifically did very little to boast his talents.
New signing, Dani Ceballos was given a 20-minute cameo and took every minute available to attempt to leave his mark on the match. Right away he was looking to get on the ball and either dribble forwards or make a forward pass. He’s a very positive player in terms of passing decisions and immediately took Arsenal’s midfield quality up a notch. I’m sure he is going to add a whole new dimension to Arsenal’s build-up phase and chip in with goals and assists now and then but perhaps not as regularly as some are suggesting. You can read more analysis on Dani Ceballos here.
Finally, as part of the new-look Emirates Cup format, the men’s game was preceeded by the Arsenal Women losing 0-1 to Bayern Munich. Having thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the Women’s World Cup this summer I was very much looking forward to seeing my first live match. Unfortunately, I was massively let down. The quality was really poor, with simple unpressurised passes going astray regularly and a lack of general urgency and desire to take on opponents. This was very disappointing given how much I was looking forward to it as it became very dull and almost a chore to sit through. This by no means takes anything away from the fabulous World Cup, but simply speaking objectively from the one live experience I have, it was not entertaining or played to the expected standard.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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