Arsenal smashed Watford 4-1 in a fairly simple outing.
The intensity of the game certainly wasn’t at Premier League level and Watford really looked a bit sad at times… but you can only play what is put in front of you and as afternoon’s go, it was pretty decent.
I won’t deep-dive the game too hard, but there were some standouts.
Sambi Lokonga: The 21-year-old looks very sharp. He picked up where he left off in the last game and took control in midfield. He seems like quite a big personality, loads of swagger on the pitch, he looks like he belongs. He also answers a very clear problem, namely, we are very slow at transitioning the ball forward. He brings all the control of Xhaka, but he does everything a little faster and with more ambition. I really like how he sits outside the edge of the opposition box and connects with runners. The one-touch passing is a delight as well. Very promising, he’ll be an important player quicker than we thought.
Eddie Nkeitiah: I’ve been quite critical of Eddie. He’s been a great finisher, but outside that, he can be anonymous in games in terms of contribution to the overall play. Out on the left, he showed that he has a lot of really positive attributes. He ran at the Watford backline, he pressed when needed, and he showed up with a great goal, cutting in and curling a shot into the far corner. I suspect he’ll be sold, I just wish he’d gone out on loan last season. That’s up to the player though, he chose to stay like Reiss and wasted a year of development.
Thomas Partey: He’s the boss in that midfield now. He showed off his range of passing and vision. He looked fit. He looked like the big boy in the playground who has decided based off zero evidence he’s peak-Juninho with long-range shooting and freekicks. This season, he’ll know the league, he’ll be acclimated, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to bang hard.
Nicolas Pepe: You know what goes nicely with a cup of Nico? A splash of ESR. The two look fantastic together. The backend of last season seems to have given Nico a lot of confidence. He had a lot of sauce to his game today. His movement was good, he used his power and pace well, and he showed that he’ll be a force in the G/A hunt this season. This is the big year for him, he needs to impose himself and make it happen.
I really struggle with the idea that we’re going to roll another year with Mo Elneny. He seems like a beautiful human, but the football really isn’t up to much. Azeez, who scored a screamer, looks much more the part, and he seems to have built out athletically as well. We are an injury away from a stagnant midfield again next season and that is frightening.
I’m also a little worried about our strikers. Lacazette, right now, is our best option by a margin. Auba looks happier, but he’s not quite there on the pitch. It could be a bit of self-preservation, but the lack of sharpness is concerning. We’re creating a look of good movement and energy upfront, but it’s not converting with our strikers. That needs to be addressed this coming season.
Things to feel good about?
The squad is starting to play a bit more like an Arsenal team. The passing was accurate and fast, the combinations in the final third are much more interesting, we look far more fluid all over the pitch. We’re moving out of that overly choreographed feel into something more silky and cognitive. Part of that is the coaching settling in, the other part is just having a squad that feels more fit for purpose. Having two centre midfielders that can break the lines at speed gets the ball to our attackers fast. Having ESR and Pepe connecting with each other because their comms has improved whets the appetite. There’s still plenty to go, but things are going to be better next season.
I keep reading people say that our starting 11 is the same as last season. Sure, I get that, but it’s not the same starting 11 it was at the start of last season. The squad that’ll start this season will be the group of players that racked up top 4 form for 60% of the season. That alone is not enough, but we’re infinitely better off now than we were last summer, which is great news.
We’ll be announcing Ben White before this weekend… so you’ll have the Lokonga effect in defence, which again gives us more options.
We’ll have to make a move on Odegaard or Maddison pretty sharpish, that’ll add more sharpness and end product to our attack.
We might move on Tammy Abraham or… Lautaro Martinez (lol), which would give us more energy and aggression in a frontline that’s a touch soft.
I suspect there will be a replacement for Xhaka who has to be moving.
This summer could be a really good one. Next season is going to be different, that much I’m sure of.
Right, catch our latest podcast. We talk about ‘B-list’ England players, Sambi Lokonga, and debate Madders vs Odegaard.