In the early part of Mikel Arteta’s reign Arsenal were a team who pressed very high up the pitch, only to see this tactic disappear after project restart and for the duration of the 2020/21 campaign.
This year though, it seems as though the tactic is back.
The Gunners were relentless in their attempts to win the ball back off Milwall as high up the pitch as possible, with Alexandre Lacazette in particular standing out in this regard in the second half.
Smith Rowe’s new task
While Emile Smith Rowe‘s first outing in the number 10 shirt at Arsenal did not yield a goal or an assist, the midfielder still put in a good display.
However, the England under-21 international is on a mission this season to increase his end product and with the number of shots he was taking it is clear that he is trying to meet his manager’s demands of getting more goals to add to his assists.
As well as getting into the box on several occasions ‘the Smith’, as he was inadvertently christened by Nuno Tavares, found himself popping up on the right, the left and in behind the striker as he interchanged fluidly with the rest of the front three.
It was an energetic and intelligent display from the 20-year-old, who is clearly dead set on kick on next season.
Mari’s message to Okonkwo
It was another mixed performance for young goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo.
The 19-year-old is clearly talented, but has looked really nervous in the games he’s had since he made the step up to first team level this summer.
This was once again on display as he dribbled and admittedly poor back pass from Mohamed Elneny straight out of play for a corner in the first half.
However, on hand was experienced leader Pablo Mari, who when the ball went out for a goal kick straight after, took a moment to give Okonkwo some advice on his body positioning when receiving it while playing out from the back. The Spaniard has shown himself to be a real leader at the back and will be needed this season given the Gunners’ young squad.
Holding’s post match moment with Arteta
Alongside Mari in defence was Rob Holding who got a good 90 minutes under his belt for the first time in pre-season.
The 25-year-old looks set to spend much of this season competing with Ben White for the starting spot on the right side of central defence once the England international arrives.
The one blemish on his display today was a late goal conceded. While the poor camera angle and lack of replays makes it difficult to know how much it was his fault, it looked as though Murray Wallace managed to get across the former Bolton man before prodding in beyond Karl Hein.
Forever the perfectionist, Mikel Arteta could be seen after the game talking to Holding and perhaps coaching him through what he might have done differently to help Arsenal keep the clean sheet.
He was only given 45 minutes in a pre-season friendly at London Colney, but it looks as though Arsenal have found a real gem in Albert Sambi Lokonga.
The Belgian made a real difference in the second half coming on playing the ball forwards wherever possible with minimal touches, rather than the backwards and sideways slow build the Gunners have been guilty of in the past.
With Arsenal’s pace and movement in the forward areas, having a player who can release the ball forwards quickly will be crucial for getting more attacking joy. It was only 45 minutes in a pre-season friendly, but the early signs are that Sambi could be the man to do it.
Kieran Tierney was again outstanding on Saturday, getting forward with pace and aggression before producing excellent delivery in the final third.
He was allowed to do this though thanks to the role played by Mohamed Elneny, who shuffled across to the left half space to cover the left back position.
This is the role we have seen Granit Xhaka fill in recent seasons, with the Swiss international set to depart it’s clearly something Arteta wants to continue.
Sambi switched over to play it in the second half before Ainsley Maitland-Niles took over once the impeccable Thomas Partey went off, and it seems this will be a clear part of how Arsenal play next season.
The summer window is officially open, and it’s going to be tough to keep up with the comings and goings in and out of the Emirates.
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Transfer trio absent
While this technically isn’t a thing spotted in the game itself, it’s just as interesting to note the players who weren’t involved on Saturday as those who were.
While it may be reading into nothing this could be out of a desire to avoid them getting any injury problems in the build up to potential moves.
With Ben White set to arrive for £50m soon, the departure of all three could be crucial to help raise funds to help Arsenal secure their other targets this summer.
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