Arsenal haven’t enjoyed the smoothest of pre-season preparations so far with disruptions aplenty, all of which is causing a few twitchy bums with the opening clash of the season against Brentford just three weeks away.
A time of the year where fitness is most important of all, so far this summer Arsenal have taken on Hibernian, Rangers and Millwall.
The clash with Hibernian caused the expected meltdown for no reason whatsoever as Jack Ross’s side ran out 2-1 winners at Easter Road. A gifted opener was added to with a poorly defended corner, before Emile Smith Rowe reduced the deficit late on.
It was Rangers at Ibrox a few days later for a meeting with Steven Gerrard’s title winners, with Arsenal falling behind once more courtesy of another piece of slack defending from a set piece. Nuno Tavares scored a lovely goal on his debut before another corner goal was conceded.
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Eddie Nketiah spared the blushes in a match that the Gunners blew countless opportunities, primarily from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Not ideal, but the result don’t matter. Performances and fitness do. That was remedied with a 4-1 win over Millwall on Saturday, courtesy of goals from Calum Chambers, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Folarin Balogun. Much better.
However, it hasn’t been calm sailing on and off the pitch. While it’s far too early to be allowing fear to creep in ahead of the Premier League restarting, there are four main concerns facing Mikel Arteta and co.
It’s said every year, but this is an important season. More so than previously (which is also said every year).
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1. Pre-Season Disruptions & USA Tour Cancellation
While England and most of the UK are seeing restrictions for the public lifted in regards to lockdown measures, the reality of the coronavirus remains unmoved.
With an unnamed group of the 80-man travelling part who were due to fly out to the USA for the Florida Cup testing positive it forced Arsenal to cancel their plans.
Pre-season is usually a blend of so-called ‘easier’ games with more marketable fixtures later in the summer, and facing the Serie A champions certainly classes as that. While the level of competition is important for the whole team as well as the manager, there are some individuals who need those matches.
Folarin Balogun, for example, is one. A physically strong 20-year-old who has been moved up to the first team, he need these fixtures. He needs the competition. He needs to truly test himself.
All associated with Arsenal are very grateful to Millwall for heading to London Colney and fielding a strong side for Saturday’s fixture, but with all due respect they aren’t Inter. There will be another behind-closed-doors fixture to come, if all goes well.
Equally, the counter-argument is that staying in London will grant Arteta more valuable time to embed his ideas. The travel is eliminated entirely, there are no media events for sponsors and the like, and the risk of being abroad gone.