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Grounds for Arsenal optimism is grinding out an uninspiring victory

Despite a clean sheet and a two-goal margin of victory, Arsenal’s latest friendly win lacked the excitement of the ICC games. To some extent, that may have been down to the swathes of empty seats in Stockholm, which makes you wonder how much the Swedes really need Premier League football in their lives. ‘Not as much as Singaporeans’ would be my reply.

Coach Unai Emery chopped and changed the team, so fans got a chance to take a look at new signings Stephan Lichtsteiner and Lucas Torreira. Of the two, the former looked more at home in an Arsenal shirt, as he was completed unruffled by the opposition. Meanwhile, Torreira buzzed around but didn’t make as much impact. Nevertheless, both players should be pleased with their reasonably efficient but unspectacular performances.

The skipper for the day, Granit Xhaka, also had a quiet game, although Reiss Nelson may beg to differ. Just after scoring the opening goal, which looked suspiciously offside as he tapped in a rebound, Xhaka showed the same kind of leadership skills you’d expected to find in a rabid wolf. The Switzerland international seemed to savage the young winger verbally, at a time when Nelson was expecting praise for scoring rather than censure for presumably not defending well enough. Emery could also been seen talking to the youngster, who was later withdrawn, as could substitute Hector Bellerin, who put his arm around the young winger before imparting his pearls of wisdom.

This felt like one friendly too far, overall, although Lichtsteiner and Torreira clocked up some valuable minutes. At left back, meanwhile, Ainsley Maitland-Niles showboated, somewhat inappropriately, I felt. The youngster showed off his array of traps which, despite being pleasing to the eye, do not help the team to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ quickly. It takes skill to know when to use a technique, and Maitland-Niles needs to improve in this area. Hopefully, he will manage to do this by the time Arsenal play defending-champions Manchester City for one of the season’s opening games, as Nacho Monreal is unlikely to be ready in time and Sead Kolasinac is out for around 10 weeks with a knee injury.

As it was, even against Lazio, giving Arsenal valuable practice against a team in sky blue, the Gunners were sloppy defensively. Bernd Leno looked assured in goal, while Calum Chambers and Rob Holding seemed in need of more experience alongside them. Perhaps we can assume that Shkodran Mustafi will start, proving he’s not sold for €25m before next week, as he has been Arsenal’s most dependable central defender in the pre-season.

However, like a lot of players expected to start the opening game of the season, Mustafi was on the bench. Likewise, pre-season sensation Matteo Guendouzi was a substitute. In fact, the tempo was very slow, in general without the impressive Frenchman in the starting line-up. The former Lorient midfielder makes transitions from defence to attack happen quickly, as the teenager has a natural propensity to pass forwards quickly or to run with the ball and start an attack. These qualities are not so apparent in Xhaka‘s game.

Nevertheless, Arsenal still managed to win the game comfortably, which was made all the more pleasing by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ending his mini-pre-season goal drought.

The lack of intensity meant that it was difficult for players to impress, but the result will do Arsenal the power of good going until their tough opening fixtures of the season. 

Mainly based on performances during the pre-season, I’d be inclined to start the following team against Manchester City: Cech; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Holding; Bellerin, Guendouzi, Elneny, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.

Aubameyang seems willing to track back a long way to help out the defence, so I’d consider playing him on the left side of midfield. I’d really want to choose a team of willing runners, who are not scared to put a shift in, against Manchester City. A lackadaisical approach against the reigning champions could lead to a heavy defeat. However, I think if Emery truly selects his best team he can catch City unawares and achieve the almost unachievable: an opening day victory.

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