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Following a sparkling pre-season that saw Arsenal perform and get results convincingly with the quality of the play and conditioning of the players visibly getting better from each sweltering Florida evening to another, and with the squad bolstered by some key additions that raised the overall technical quality and winning know-how noticeably, there was a rare optimism and excitement before Arsenal’s season-opener against a Crystal Palace team that under the tutelage of the Arsenal invincible Patrick Vieira over the last twelve months or so has evolved into a dynamic, aggressive and resilient team. Somewhat like the man himself was as a player, but not quite as good, thankfully!

The Crystal Palace manager’s opponent in the dug-out, another ex-captain of Arsenal, may have not been quite the player Vieira was but Arteta has been able to bring his own tactical nous and an unflappable conviction from his playing days into his young and rapidly evolving managerial career.  In tandem with his technical director Edu – if you think there is an Arsenal theme being developed here, just wait until the report is finished – Mikel has more or less revamped the squad he had inherited two and half years back, ruthlessly shedding layers of calcified, ancient barks to help Arsenal regenerate its green branches and leaves with a youthful vigor.      

Palace has been quite the tricky opponent in recent years. Last season we lost away there at Selhurst Park in 0-3 in that lamentable stretch of performances in the Spring that cost us the top four spot. At home too, we were trailing until Lacazette snatched away a last-minute equalizer. The Frenchman – for all his limitations he has been a model professional and often in collaboration with his friend Aubameyang had produced some of the more memorable moments in red-and-white in our recent tumultuous years — since then has returned to his Lyonnaise roots and Arteta has replaced him with the excitingly talented Brazilian, Gabriel Jesus who, along with his ex-teammate in Manchester City, the Ukrainian captain Oleksandr Zinchenko,  brought in that rare mix of youthful vitality, hunger to improve and moreover, significant winning experience.  

Both Tomiyasu and Tierney still being sidelined – though KT now fit enough to be on the bench – the starting line-up was as expected, and unchanged from the one that had trounced Chelsea (albeit an undercooked one) in pre-season: 

Ramsdale 

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko 

Partey – Xhaka 

Saka – Ødegaard – Martinelli 

G.Jesus

Jettisoning the black-and-gold away kit that was on display in pre-season, Arsenal lined up in unfamiliar but admittedly rather aesthetically pleasing pale pink kit (Orchid pink? Cherry blossom pink? Any specialists in Chromatics lurking in here?). 

Whereas Jesus and Zinchenko were making debuts for Arsenal they are both experienced PL campaigners, the complete debutant in that line-up was the young Frenchman William Saliba at the right side of the defense. A player signed from Saint-Étienne back when he was only 19 and then sent on loan initially back to Les Verts, then to Nice and then, last season, to Marseille, there has been all types of narratives formed around him, from the signing itself to his readiness or even suitability for the PL. Proving his doubters wrong,  Saliba had shown in the pre-season that he has the calmness and self-belief to carry over his brilliant form from Ligue 1 into English football, ably assisted by his towering presence. Arteta starting him in the season-opener and pushing White to right back – not starting with White at right centre back with Cedric on the right – was a show of confidence from the manager in his abilities and temperament. 

Arsenal started electrically. Crisp, purposeful, vertical passing at high tempo complemented by tireless and dynamic off-the-ball movement and pressing. We completely dominated Palace in the first 25-30 minutes with a quality of play and conviction that we haven’t seen in a season opener for a while now. The two Brazilians in the forward line were particularly creating havoc in the Palace defense, and Jesus showed his world class technical abilities with a superb run with the ball through a forest of Palace defenders in the penalty box. His deflected shot just needed a simple finish from Martinelli who missed an empty net with the goalkeeper prostrate on the ground. 

Arsenal carried on. While White had to be extra careful given that he had the unenviable task of keeping Zaha quiet – and I think he did a superb job for most of the match with one or two lapses that are inevitable against Palace’s best player and one of the trickiest wingers in the league – Zinchenko had more attacking freedom and with his positional intelligence and formidable passing range he initiated some excellent switches of play to find Saka in good positions against isolated defenders, while at the same time facilitating Xhaka-Martinelli-Jesus to dovetail seamlessly on the left. The continued goalmouth pressure led to shots from Partey and Zinchenko, the latter saved by the keeper. Once or twice Palace managed to arrive with the ball in the Arsenal final third but found Gabriel and Saliba imperious in regaining possession and using Partey as the base to recirculate the ball for quick attacks. 

The first goal came via the somewhat prosaic route of a corner kick — albeit one that Mikel’s coaching team work on a lot and the players benefit from at both ends of the pitch. Saka delivered from the right, deep into the left side of Palace penalty box. Zinchenko left his marker Zaha stranded on the edge and headed the ball back into goalmouth for Martinelli to nod it into the goal. Gabi became the first Brazilian player to score the first goal of any PL season. One of the many records that he will set in his career, hopefully at the club level playing always for us.

Crystal Palace 0 – Arsenal 1 (Martinelli 20’) 

After the goal our intensity dropped, and we stopped enjoying the dominance that marked the first phase of the game. Palace weren’t really creating any great moves, but with bits of indiscipline creeping into our performance, Palace started to find some openings. Ramsdale made a couple of poor mistakes with the ball at his feet and almost conceded what would have been a very strange goal when his attempted pass through the middle rebounded off a Palace player back towards goal. However, as was often the case last season, he also kept us in the game with a superb reflex save from Edouard’s point-blank header. Xhaka earned a soft yellow – this time for failing to touch an opposition player before tumbling down. I think he was just checking whether “let’s show Xhaka a card” school of thought remains prevalent among the school of English refereeing. Assured by the familiarity of the devil that he knows, he went about the rest of the match with his trademark professionalism, including a brilliant last-ditch block in the left back position to cover for the gap between Gabriel and Zinchenko. 

Palace found a formula. Or rather they started to execute the formula that Paddy must have formed looking at the aggressive positioning of our defenders in pre-season. Long raking passes over the defenders for their fast forward line, especially Zaha and Eze, to latch on to. It is not a new tactic against Arsenal teams, and often a very fruitful one. But our current central defensive pairing – ably assisted by the fullbacks – possesses a serenity on the ball and a discipline off it that makes us much less vulnerable to route one than we have been lately.

Palace started the second half with intensity, forcing Partey and White into a few mistakes. Ramsdale made a great save from Eze who was set up by typically explosive wing-play by Zaha who started to win a bit more of his battles against White. But not really against the Arsenal defense as Saliba showed remarkable composure, positional sense, technical quality in the air and on the ball, and overall exuded just an aura of calm control over the proceedings that didn’t really allow Palace’s newfound intensity or possessional advantage to turn into any real scare for us, even though there were a few (but not that many) forced and unforced mistakes from some of his more experienced partners. 

We also started to lose the cutting edge in the opposition box. Ødegaard, earlier having seen one of his superbly taken free kicks fizz just pass the Palace goal, later demonstrated the lack of ruthlessness and goalscoring instinct which I think remains the main weakness in contrast to his array of prodigious talents. Saka and Martinelli, in their very distinct ways, are two players who never give up and never fail to want to take more responsibilities but once the cohesiveness starts to fall apart, they don’t yet (and I understand that this could be a controversial observation) have the personality to single-handedly drag the team forward consistently, even though they are both capable of producing inspiring individual moments. Jesus is probably the likeliest of the front three to be able to have that kind of talismanic impact but as the second half wore on, he started to fizzle out, frustrated by not getting some free kick decisions that he has probably become more used to going his way. Welcome to the Arsenal, Gabriel! 

Mikel brought in Tierney and Nketiah for Zinchenko and Jesus with less than 10 minutes remaining. Both brought in a bit of spark with Eddie being proactive and industrious in his typical fashion. He found Saka on the right after crisp passing from Arsenal brought the ball into the opposition final third. Saka beat his marker on the outside and sent in a fizzing cross that was turned into his own net by Palace defender Guéhi. 

Crystal Palace 0 – Arsenal 2 (Martinelli 20’, Guéhi og 85’) 

The points secured, with the traveling Arsenal fans serenading their old Arsenal favorite, the new Arsenal boys ended the match uneventfully, the clean sheet as pleasing to the team and as much of a key to the positive result as the first twenty minutes of champagne football. 

Let us build on those foundations. 



A new season. New faces. Big new hopes and dreams. Yet, for all the preseason promise and the pleasure and puns it provided, this is where the football starts in earnest. Arteta’s team must begin turning potential into potential realised from the minute we kick off the Premiership opener at Crystal Palace on Friday evening.


But first, of course, a little history. 


Our first competitive game against Palace was a 7-0 drubbing handed out at Highbury in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1934. Three days previously, Palace had lost 11-6 to Exeter in the old Third Division league cup. Sometimes, it is just not your week.


Our first league visit to Selhurst Park was in November 1969, a 5-1 win in the old Division One. John Radford hit a hat-trick against the team then known as The Glaziers. Since you ask, the fedora-wearing, cigar-chomping ‘Big Mal’ Allison changed the nickname to the Eagles in 1973, mimicking Benfica, then in their European pomp despite the great Eusebio being in his twilight years (Google him, younger ‘holics).


The 1969-70 season was Palace’s first in the top flight since its election to the Football League in 1920. Subsequently, apart from three seasons in the old Third Division in the mid-1970s, they yo-yoed between the two top divisions before a financial near-death experience in the first decade of this century.

Following the Steve Parish-led resuscitation, Palace came out of administration in 2010. They returned to the Premiership in 2013 to settle into mid-table residency (is that how you spell mediocrity?), never finishing lower than 15th or higher than 10th.

Since Roy Hodgson left at the end of the 2020-21 season to play the role of Arthur in the video of Louis Dunford’s The Angel, Palace has been managed by our very own Patrick Vieira. The ambition of a team that counted Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce among Paddy’s recent predecessors has at least risen to playing football.


The opposition 
In his first season, Vieira steered Palace to a familiar 12th place in the league and a less accustomed semi-final in the FA Cup. Palace also achieved a positive goal difference for the first time in the Premier League.

Paddy is rejuvenating an ageing squad inherited from the league’s oldest manager, needing younger legs to turn it into an attacking, high-pressing side. When he talks about his makeover, he sounds uncannily like Arteta:
We are a different team, we have an identity and a clear idea about how we want to play the game in and out of possession. 

He also speaks of recruiting players that fit a profile, of individuals having the discipline to put the team before themselves and of the need for consistent performances to move to the next level. Arsene Wenger must be allowing himself a satisfied smile over his two proteges. 

In this close season, Vieira has bought Cheick Doucouré, a 22-year-old Mali international, from Lens and the similarly aged centre-back Chris Richards, from Bayern Munich, which had the US international on loan at Hoffenheim. Malcolm Ebiowei, an 18-year-old winger who has attracted the attention of some bigger clubs, arrived from Derby County on a free; he is likely being groomed as Wilfried Zaha’s successor. Onetime England goalkeeper Sam Johnstone also joined on a free, from West Brom. Although 29, he is not so long in the tooth in goalkeeping years.

Doucouré replaces the released 32-year-old Senegal international Cheikhou Kouyate as the ‘6’ anchor of Vieira’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. Of Palace’s other midfielders, James McArthur, currently injured, turns 35 in October. Jeffrey Schlupp, whose career has spluttered with the Ghanaian not receiving an international call-up since 2017, turns 30 mid-season. Will Hughes, at 26, the oldest outfield player Vieira has signed, has not fully established himself since arriving from Watford a year ago. Conor Gallagher, last season’s player of the season, has returned to Chelsea. The 24-year-old Eberechi Eze, bought from QPR before Vieira arrived, appears to have leapfrogged up in Paddy’s pecking order. 

Upfront, Odsonne Edouard, also 24, is another who has not fully delivered on his promise since joining from Celtic. He found himself on the bench towards the end of last season but will likely start against us. Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew are wily old campaigners but now 30-somethings. Zaha, who will join that set in November, is still like the daring young man on the flying trapeze — he flies through the air with the greatest of ease — but he was Palace’s top scorer last season with 16 league goals, a menace and a threat.

Palace also have a young striker on its books, Luke Plange, whom some might recall from when he was with our Under-18s. We let him go on a free to Derby County. The Rams sold him to Palace for 1.2 million euros six months later. Hmm.

Palace’s stand-out young player, centre-back Marc Guéhi, is now a full England international, having moved to Palace after failing to break through at Chelsea (O Hutchinson, please note). Guéhi should line up alongside the Dane, Joachim Andersen, flanked at full-back by the combative Joel Ward (32) and Tyrick Mitchell, a talented 22-year-old product of Palace’s Academy. Last season’s No. 1 keeper Vincente Guaita will start between the sticks with Johnstone and Jack Butland injured.

There is not much to be taken from Palace’s preseason friendlies. Nine first-team players were absent from the overseas tour because of injury and the unvaccinated being unable to travel. Vieira has said his preseason was disrupted. Let’s hope so, although Palace ended on a high, beating Montpellier 4-2.

The Arsenal
No need to rehearse the discussions in the drinks about the purposefully made additions to our squad and the gaps still to be plugged and the redundant to be moved on, for which read, given away. 21CG deftly anticipated the expectation of goals and enthusiasm for the season ahead in his Sevilla match report. I will add only that last season, we dropped five points to Palace, and have beaten them once since January 2018. That is not a record we can repeat if we are to deliver on top-table aspirations this season.

Arteta says that three of our quartet of injured are back in training, assumedly Tomiyasu, Tierney and ESR, but not Fabio Vieira (sounds like ESR is the odd man out -Ed). Late fitness tests await. Squad depth allows the luxury of not needing to rush returns. 

I fancy Arteta will start as he did against Sevilla:

Ramsdale

White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko

Partey, Ødegaard, Xhaka

Saka, Jesus, Martinelli


Bench (five from nine named subs can be used): Turner, Holding, Cedric, Lokonga, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Pépé, Nelson, Nketiah.

Paddy’s Palace will again provide tricky opposition. So this warning that comes down through the ages is salient.

Commenting on the 1934 FA Cup tie in his Arsenal programme notes for our following game, ‘Recorder’ wrote,
[Palace] were always strong enough to suggest that, if they could snatch a goal, our situation might be difficult.

Yet, ‘Recorder’ added, 
Our victory was complete in every department, for long before the end Palace were outclassed…our splendid display was most cheering…some of our movements were so illustrative of perfect understanding that they could not fail to stamp us as a great team. Our finishing power, too, was shattering, and the way in which some of the goals were scored would have confounded many a defence far stronger.

That is what we want to see on Friday evening and through to the end of May.

The ‘holics pound
The bookies have us as favourites, but the odds are drifting. The value looks to lie in a 3-0 away win at 17s. 

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far.

Arsenal ended preseason with yet another convincing win against a strong Sevilla side as they thumped sorry Sevilla for six on a warm late July afternoon at the Emirates. With less than a week to go until the big kick off at Selhurst Park on Friday night, Arteta fielded a very strong side, handing out Emirates debuts to former city duo, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko and at last, William Saliba was given a run out in front of the Arsenal faithful, just three years after signing for the club! The atmosphere was a lot better than I anticipated for a pre-season encounter, largely thanks to our exciting transfer business and the general feel-good factor Arteta has managed to bring back to the club over the last year or so. 

We began strongly and we won a penalty on 8 minutes, as our new Norwegian skipper clipped a lovely through ball over to Saka who was felled by a Sevilla defender and the referee pointed to the spot. Slightly contentious perhaps but it was only a friendly after all.  Saka got up, dusted himself down and sent the ‘keeper the wrong way. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

We then saw a minute’s applause in the ninth minute for the memory of former Arsenal and Sevilla forward, Jose Antonio Reyes who tragically died in a car crash in Spain in 2019. Wenger signed the Spaniard during the invincible season, and he scored some memorable goals, particularly after we had wrapped up the title and were focusing on preserving our unbeaten status. Without some of his goals, the unbeaten season would never have been achieved. He will always live on in Arsenal’s history. 

Arsenal continued their dominance. Ben White played a lovely cross field ball to Jesus who took it down on the chest, played in Xhaka, whose cross bounced around in the box and came out to Jesus who tapped home on his Emirates debut. 2-0 to The Arsenal. And just three minutes later, the Son of God had another! Martinelli found space on the left, and much like Pontius Pilate, the Brazilian put Jesus on the end of a cross. As it says in the Bible, “and on the sixth day God created goal, and the goal was good”. That’s not the word for word translation but you get the general idea. Hopefully this time, Jesus doesn’t have to sacrifice himself to save us from our sins when we lose 4-0 to Nottingham Forest in May after our squad gets struck down by a plague of locusts and we are forced to call David Seaman out of retirement to play in goal and a midfield pivot of a one legged Santi Cazorla and Charlie Patino, surrendering top 4 to Chelsea who have been playing Ashley Barnes up top all year after being rejected by every centre forward who has ever kicked a ball. I digress. Incredibly, on 19 minutes it was 4-0. A dodgy pass from the Sevilla GK found Saka who knocked it in with his ‘weaker’ right foot. 

Surprisingly, no changes were made at half time. The second half was a more low-key affair, with Arsenal taking their foot off the gas as you’d expect. Finally, on 77 minutes, Jesus completed his hat trick. The ball fell to him following a corner and the Brazilian stabbed home from close range. Just the seven goals in pre-season for our new number nine! Arteta then made a number of changes including Jesus who was replaced by Nketiah and it was our number 14 who completed the scoring. As Sevilla looked for a consolation, we won the ball back on the edge of our box, Xhaka sprung forward and played a defence splitting through ball to Martinelli who could have easily gone alone but unselfishly chose to tee up Nketiah for an easy tap in. 6-0 to The Arsenal. Not a bad way to finish pre-season. 

So, there we have it, the highly sought-after pre-season double of the Florida cup and the Emirates cup has been completed. All in all, it has been a very successful pre-season period for the Gunners but as we know the real work begins on Friday night in South London. I don’t think I am alone in saying this is the most excited I have felt about the new season in a long time. Hopefully we can channel the disappointment of last season into champions league qualification and at long last get our hands on that pesky Thursday night Ropey League. Success in sunny Budapest at the end of May are the doctors’ orders. Don’t forget your seatbelts, because this could be quite the rollercoaster…..

Conventional wisdom advises that the extremes of pre-season performances and results be faced with, if not quite the stoicism of a sage (for no sage would voluntarily raise their blood pressure in a balmy summer evening), at least with a degree of measured nonchalance.  But conventional wisdom is also a complete killjoy, so I decided to immoderately, unwisely, ecstatically celebrate the mighty red-and-white thumping an old (and rather dislikeable) enemy with a performance of breathtaking physical intensity and footballing savoir-faire in a hot and humid Florida night. Yes, this performance and result may “mean nothing” at the end of the season, nonetheless it was a memorably joyful display that hinted at tantalizing possibilities.  

If you haven’t seen the full match and just want to see the highlights and skip the rest, I suggest that if you can manage to carve out ninety odd minutes from your schedule to see the full match recorded you will find the experience to be worth your time. 

The starting line-up included the new face of Oleksandr Zinchenko, the Ukrainian international captain, having just recently joined Arsenal from Manchester City, following the same steps taken by his good friend Gabriel Jesus who has already shown us the kind of superlative technical abilities and elite professionalism the club is trying to bring in to move us to the next level. The versatile newcomer started in left back, whereas White started on the right in a 4-2-3-1 formation. 

Ramsdale 

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko 

Partey – Xhaka 

Saka – Ødegaard – Martinelli 

G.Jesus

If we don’t sign any other players in this transfer window, I suspect this would be our first choice starting line-up while Tierney and Tomiyasu are still recovering. If both are fit, it will be a toss-up between Saliba and White in the right side of the central defense, while Zinchenko is likely to play the left-sided 8 role that Xhaka now holds. 

Chelsea fielded mostly the same familiar faces, with a few additions that have somehow managed to up their annoyingness quotient even higher. A few of them, for some inexplicable reasons, decided to gleefully hack down any and all Arsenal players from the get-go. I guess the change of ownership hasn’t yet really transformed the culture. 

Arsenal started with a high tempo, pressing from the front in well-orchestrated patterns and moving the ball quickly and vertically. In defense Saliba and Gabriel complemented each other well, maintained positional discipline and appeared comfortable in possession. Saliba stopped a Chelsea counter-attack with a precise and clean tackle and from the resulting Chelsea corner Martinelli won possession and ran down the middle of the pitch – rather reminiscent of his memorable goal against the same opponents at their home in the Premier League – in a blistering counter-attack and released Saka. A peak-condition Saka would have surely scored from that opportunity, but this time Mendy blocked his goal bound attempt. 

Zinchenko appeared well at ease with the formation and his teammates, showing great control in tight spaces, combined well with Xhaka and Martinelli on the left and once released Saka with a sumptuous cross-field pass. Physically, he did not look as sharp as the rest of the Arsenal players and was beaten by the pace of James a couple of times down their right wing, which is only to be expected as he joined the squad a few days back, after starting his pre-season late following his participation in world cup qualifiers. 

Gabriel Jesus, since his first minute in an Arsenal shirt in this pre-season, has indicated that he means business.  His movement, close control, understanding with Ødegaard, Martinelli and Saka and then his relentless front-foot pressing in tandem with his fellow Brazilian was troubling the Chelsea defense to no end. Such a concerted Arsenal press forced a mistake from the Chelsea defense and Xhaka pounced on the loose ball and unhesitatingly set Jesus up with a lovely slide-rule pass. Jesus finished with an imperious chip over the advancing Mendy. 

Arsenal 1 (G. Jesus 15’) – Chelsea 0

Arsenal kept the pressure up, the forward four superbly assisted by Partey and Xhaka in the midfield. It was noticeable how progressively and quickly both were willing to pass after winning possession – they both were winning most of the 50:50 challenges — and how much of a natural understanding of the half-spaces they have grown into. Their sharpness may have been highlighted more because of Chelsea’s relative sluggishness, which might simply mean that these two squads are at different stages of pre-season preparedness and nothing more, but it was highly noticeable. 

The second goal came through an eye-catching combination of technical abilities and physical sharpness. We won possession high up the field, Martinelli drove at the box with the ball, swiveled around to make space and then set up Ødegaard – who had made a disguised run into the box — with a clever pass that Martin finished crisply. 

Arsenal 2 (G. Jesus 15’, Ødegaard 36’) – Chelsea 0

After the second goal Chelsea enjoyed a stretch of possession but without offering any significant threat to trouble Ramsdale. There was a cross that deflected off Zinchenko to loop up in the air and our goalkeeper had to scramble to ensure safety. Towards the end of the first half another flowing Arsenal move saw Partey attempting one of his trademark long-rangers – and keeping with the spirit of positivity, I must say match by match these attempts are inching closer and closer to the goal! It feels that once one of those goes in he would be scoring a few each season. This effort just curled wide. Just before the half-time whistle Mount’s excellent attempt from the edge of the box crashed against the far post, Ramsdale was completely beaten. 

Chelsea made a few changes at the beginning of the second half whereas we only brought in Nuno Tavares for Zinchenko, whose debut in an Arsenal shirt promised much. I hold a somewhat contrary opinion about Nuno compared to most of the Goonerverse. Even if Tierney gets back to full fitness before the season starts, I think we should still keep him and not let him leave on loan. In Europa group stages he can be a difference-making player with his aggression, physicality and attack mindedness. His defensive frailties are tactical and positional, not technical, and hence can be coached out of his system; especially with Zinchenko more likely to ply his preferred midfield role in Arsenal colors Nuno may yet get the opportunity to contribute significantly. Tavares played rather well in his forty-five minutes in this match, keeping his focus defensively and a few times progressing rapidly with the ball in speedy counter attacks. 

Chelsea looked better in the second half, playing with more purpose. The needlessly crunching challenges continued, and Mount earned a yellow card for his tackle on Partey. Jesus drew a few fouls because of the sharpness of his movements and quick feet, and around 56thminute Mikel decided to bring in Nketiah for the Brazilian. Eddie kept up the intensity and pressing, but earned an unnecessary yellow card for not allowing a quick restart by Chelsea. 

The third goal came from a curious combination of high technical quality and a bit of good fortune. Saka enjoyed a bit of luck down the right to skip past his marker, and from the resulting attack Martinelli’s fierce shot was palmed away by Mendy. Xhaka then displayed a delightful bit of control and technique to keep possession of the ball in the air before releasing a powerful right-footed volley that was again saved by Mendy but this time Saka was close by the finish from the rebound. VAR, if it were present, might have chalked the goal off for a potential offside by Saka. 

Arsenal 3 (G. Jesus 15’, Ødegaard 36’, Saka 65’) – Chelsea 0

Mikel rang the changes around the 70th minute.  Turner replaced Ramsdale – whose distribution was inconsistent throughout the evening – and Elneny came on for Partey.  Pépé, fighting (or not) for his Arsenal career, replaced Martinelli to play down the left. Another member of our Brazilian contingent, young Marquinhos from São Paulo, replaced Saka. Cedric took on the right back role which White had performed with consummate ease.  

Martinelli had played seventy minutes of non-stop, high quality, high intensity football with a rapidly growing tactical sophistication that must have pleased Mikel. 

With a pinpoint cross-field pass Tavares released Marquinhos who was brought down by a Chelsea player who received a yellow card. A few minutes later, Nuno himself, on one of his rampaging runs, drew another yellow card as Ampadu was forced to bring him down. Soon after captain Ødegaard saw a yellow for a tired tackle. 

That was likely the indication for Mikel to make the final set of changes. Maitland-Niles came on for Xhaka, who I thought had a very influential game. And Sambi replaced a superb Ødegaard, who especially in the first half combined scintillatingly with Gabriel Jesus. 

I think Sambi has all the tools to become a world class midfielder. His technical abilities and tactical awareness are top notch, and without overly relying on physicality he smartly uses his quick speed over short distances to good effects. He can get overwhelmed and starts committing mistakes under pressure, but the psychological maturity will come with age and experience. He has been consistently good in the pre-season and this cameo appearance was no exception. In a somewhat advanced midfield role he combined well multiple times and once released Nketiah with a perfect through ball only for Eddie to be fouled. 

Eddie was clattered once more following quick combination play around the Chelsea penalty box. Sadly Pépé’s excellent free-kick was saved by an acrobatic Mendy. 

The final passage of play saw Cedric curl in a perfect cross from the right. Sambi was left completely unmarked in the box and he guided a cushioned header inside the far corner past an outstretched Mendy. This was Sambi’s first goal in an Arsenal shirt and the joyous reception he got from his teammates offered an insight into the spirit inside the camp. 

Arsenal 4 (G. Jesus 15’, Ødegaard 36’, Saka 65’, Sambi 92’) – Chelsea 0

Afterwards in the interview Mikel was rightly cautious about not reading much into the performance and result. It is of course his job to look at this evening’s happenings through a more realistic prism. But for supporters like us, especially those of us who refuse to be easily seduced by the charms of cautious pragmatism, performances like this – even if it is in a pre-season “friendly” – indicate a clear evolution that we can all stand behind.    

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Maria Petri

The team at Goonerholics Forever send their condolences to the family and friends of Maria Petri, Arsenal fan extraordinaire, who will be missed by thousands of match-going Gooners and whose support for the Arsenal was second to none. Maria was an example to us all.

This is just a quick little review of Arsenal’s friendly against the Orlando City Lions in their home at Orlando, FL’s Expedia Stadium. The game was delayed by about an hour past its 1630 start time, forcing almost everyone hoping to watch it in England to seek their dreams.

We started with a lineup that is very clearly the second string, in most spots:

Ramsdale

Cédric — Holding — Marí — Tavares

Mo’Neny — Sambi — AMN

Pépé — Nketiah — Martinelli

Excepting the first ten minutes, and then much of the second half, seeking their dreams was a good plan for Arsenal fans watching. Due to the delay I turned on ESPN+ and the game just as Gabigol passed to Sambi in their box. Sambi passed straight back to the Brazilian running across the box. Gabi shaped a shot towards the back post, but it was cut out brilliantly by the back of the Orlando defender straight into the near corner of the net, completely fooling his keeper.

Arsenal 1-0 Orlando (Martinelli, 5′)

Orland seemed to use this to grow into the game, and after much uninspired play from Arsenal they punted a second long-ball that was well-gathered by their midfielder Facundo Torres, who did well to beat both Tavares and Marí and rifle a shot into the bottom corner of Ramsdale’s net.

Arsenal 1-1 Orlando (Torres, 29′)

Orlando had the best of the first half, outshooting and outpassing Arsenal, and generally playing well enough they were good value for the halftime score of 1-1. Arsenal were relatively insipid and disappointing, though there were some good performances. Gabi was solid, Holding was slow and got turned but was generally solid, Sambi did well in midfield (on both sides of the ball) and Eddie worked hard with little to show for it. And a word on Tavares. He played some lovely stuff, but is a completely mixed bag: great footwork followed by a wayward pass, running yards to pick off the ball then shooting into row z when he got the chance. I really don’t know what to make of him, hopefully if he is loaned to Brighton it will winnow out his chaff so he can take his next chance in red and white.

There were the obligatory substitutes at the start of the second half, with White coming on for Cédric and Gabriel for Marí in defense, Mø for AMN, Jesus for Martinelli, and Turner for Ramsdale. Instantly our offense clicked better, and our defense snuffed out chances higher up the pitch, and prevented Orlando from getting beyond our defenders with the long balls over the top. In the first minute Jesus had a shot on goal saved by Orlando’s keeper on a pass from Tavares, one of two or three shots Jesus had saved in the opening 15 minutes of the half.

On 60 minutes Arsenal brought in another raft of subs, with Saliba, Saka, Xhaka, and Partey replacing Holding, Pépé, Sambi, and Mo’neny. As with the half-time subs this group tightened our play even more, and we started playing with a real intent; I don’t believe Orlando got a real sniff of our goal from then until the end of the game. And six minutes later we had our second goal. After some nice interchanges Jesus shot while falling down, the ball bounced off their defender to a perfectly-placed Eddie who stroked the ball into the bottom corner of the net. A perfect poacher’s goal.

Arsenal 2-1 Orlando (Nketiah, 66′)

We continued our assault on their goal, forcing saves or blocks on shots from Jesus, Tavares, and Saka. In the 80th minute we cycled the ball deep back to Partey, who worked it up the left through Xhaka, Nelson, Tavares, Jesus, and Mø, who passed it across to Saka inside their box on the right. He held it up then flicked a well-weighted pass to the oncoming Nelson, who first-timed it into the goal with his right foot from just inside the penalty spot. 10 passes (might have been one or two more prior to Partey picking up the ball in our defense), 29 seconds and using much of the width and breadth of the field: trust the process. Artetaball at its finest (against, admittedly, a bang average-minus Orlando team, especially in the second half).

Arsenal 3-1 Orlando (Nelson, 80′)

And really, that was it. We had a couple more attempts from Xhaka and Nelson, but once the third goal went in the game ran out of steam.

We ended up with these players on the pitch:

Turner

White — Saliba — Gabriel — Tavares

Partey — Mø — Xhaka

Saka — Jesus — Nelson

I strongly doubt Tavares and Nelson will be with us, and I am less and less inclined (especially if the incoming Zinchenko forces him to the bench) to get rid of Xhaka. Partey made only one mistake I saw, driving us from the defense into attack with some nice passes and dribbles. Mø was both captain and conductor, Saka was a live wire and deserved a goal, and Saliba was composed and regal in what has to be his starting position for the season. If we can get left back sorted, and Tomi can come in (though White did well in this game I remain unconvinced he’s better than Cédric long-term) and stay uninjured, we could have a pretty strong first team with a decent-enough second string (so long as we don’t have to play them all at once.

Now the team has to survive the lightning, heat, humidity, and Orlando’s other savo(u)ry delights ahead of Saturday’s game against Chelsea. COYG!

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