Arsenal started the game with a pretty standard lineup, so I won’t talk about a lot of the players who played tonight because we’ve seen them play a thousand times before (Xhaka, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Sokratis, Monreal, etc.). It’s just not worth anybody’s time.
Moving on, the one person who snuck into the starting 11 tonight was Joe Willock, who really impressed in a pivot with Xhaka in the 4-2-3-1 formation. He seems to have an Aaron Ramsey-like engine, running around the entire game. He seems composed on the ball, and can pick out a pass. If he’s not getting significant first-team minutes next year I’ll be really upset. I was surprised to see him so comfortable in a pivot, maybe he played in one during his time in the academy. He seems like a real talent that could truly develop into something.
Two other players who shined in the 4-2-3-1 formation tonight were Ozil and (surprisingly) Aubameyang on the right wing. Ozil playing in his best position with two wingers and a striker to pass to really suits him, and if Emery is forced to use him that’s the best formation to use. Aubameyang looked fantastic on the right wing, and I was surprised by that because I didn’t like him at all when he played from the left last season. It looked like being on the right with his strong foot helped him more, as he looked to make crosses and shoot more often.
I think the 4-2-3-1 might be the best formation moving forward, especially if we sign Tierney and Bellerin comes back to his true form once healthy. This formation helps fit in Lacazette, Aubameyang, Ozil, and a potential new winger signing, along with reducing the midfield to just a pivot. That is important because we don’t have much depth in our midfield. We’d also only be be using two centre-backs, and that’s important because if Koscielny leaves we’d only have four usable players in that position (Sokratis, Holding, Mustafi, and Chambers). The one player that would lose out if we were to play this formation is Alex Iwobi because he’s not suited for a pivot and he’s not a natural winger. Only the #10 role would fit him best but Ozil and Mkhitaryan are probably more useful options. I’m sure Iwobi will get plenty of playing time this year nonetheless.
Mkhitaryan played a great ball to Aubameyang that resulted in an own goal, and our other goal was a fantastic give-and-go featuring John-Jules who then played a great cross over to Nketiah for the game-winner.
The youth were absolutely the best part of this game; Willock, John-Jules, and Nketiah were fantastic. John-Jules really showed up tonight in the 10 minutes he played, he was explosive using his big frame. He was dribbling past defenders and getting into great positions in the box, which unfortunately led to him missing a sitter but it’d be harsh to criticize him on that. It makes sense that Bayern have actually looked at signing him from us, but he absolutely needs to be kept at Arsenal. Nketiah’s work-rate impressed me again tonight, along with his dribbling, passing, and hold-up play. Obviously his goal was his highlight of the night, but his ability to hold off one of Bayern’s defenders and create a great chance was truly impressive as well.
Reiss Nelson got a solid 20 minutes or so in the second half, and overall didn’t really end up being involved in the play much. He found himself on the end of a great cross from Auba and took a bit of a heavy touch and eventually got his shot blocked. Hopefully we see more of him in the rest of the preseason. Burton also played for a bit tonight, again showing his ability to dribble and pick out a pass. He’s a nice little player.
The main message that comes to mind after watching these games is that the youth need to play. This crop of talent is special, and whether it’s on loan or at the club, they must play. The Europa League and League Cup will be a great opportunity for them to play, and I hope Unai gives them as many opportunities as possible. They should definitely play in the group stages and early knockout matches of the Europa League, and then when we get matched up against a bigger club some of the regulars should start playing. It’s a win-win, keep the regulars fit and get the youth valuable playing time.
The next preseason match is against Fiorentina on Saturday. My Twitter is @thebostongooner.