Brilliant Ben White
There were plenty of worrying aspects to Arsenal’s final display ahead of their Premier League opener against Brentford in five days time, but one undoubted positive was the performance of Ben White.
The England international has already won over the hearts and minds of most Gunners fans with his hattrick of goalline clearances on his debut against Chelsea last week, but on his first start for his new club White showed exactly why he has been signed.
The fee of £50 million is not to be sniffed at but if the 23-year-old keeps up this impressive streak throughout the regular season then he will prove to be worth every penny.
Then there was the dribbling ability that he really caught the eye with demonstrated by a marauding run out from the back into the Tottenham defensive third before he was eventually hauled down.
The former Leeds loanee has also been signed with the intention of getting the Gunners playing higher up the pitch, and this could be seen as he won the ball back just beyond the centre circle in the Spurs half on several occasions in the first period.
“Yeah, he was really good,” said the Spaniard. “But again, it’s a match where they haven’t played.
“Some of them they’ve [only] trained for four or five days. So you can still see and we didn’t want to risk many more, but it was a good start.”
Pablo Mari‘s error may have led to Spurs’ winner on the day, but it was a near faultless performance from the new man White, who looks set to improve the Arsenal defence no end.
High line problems
While White was superb, a glaring flaw in the Arsenal defence was exposed once again.
Arteta seems intent on getting his team to play with a high line this season as he seeks to turn them into a high pressing side once more.
This in theory is a brilliant idea that will allow the Gunners to win the ball closer to the opposition goal where they can be far more of an offensive threat.
But if the two friendlies against Premier League opposition in the Mind Series are anything to go by though, it’s something they still need to work on.
Constantly in the first half Tottenham’s front line of Son Heung-Min, Lucas Moura, Dele Alli and Steven Bergwijn took it in turns to break into the Gunners’ half beyond their non-existent offside trap.
Spurs were unlucky not to score on several occasions with Bernd Leno pulling off an incredible stop from Son and Alli hitting the post from inside the six yard box.
By Arteta’s own admission it was something his side struggled with.
“The game had different phases,” he said. “The first ten minutes when we had some problems in our high press and we were a little disorganised.”
In fairness to Arsenal they did improve in the second half, but this came at the cost of a lack of offensive threat as it became clear there was only going to be one winner.
With the Premier League season just five days away from kicking off it will be a concern that the Gunners still look so rash in their approach to a tactic that will be the foundation of most of their attacking and defensive play this campaign.
Aubameyang falters again
Another game, another blank for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has now gone six pre-season friendlies without scoring a goal.
In fairness to the Gabon international it was not as if he had a bucketload of chances to take on Sunday, but his anonymity in the match will be a concern.
Out on the left again the 32-year-old struggled to leave much of an imprint on the match.
Of course the season hasn’t started yet and if he starts banging them in on a regular basis from Friday onwards Arsenal fans will not mind his underwhelming pre-season.
His manager though seems far more concerned and appeared frustrated on several occasions in the match as attacking situations involving Aubameyang fell by the wayside.
There was one incident in the first half in particular where the Gunners had held the ball for a sustained period on the edge of the box and looked to slowly be turning the screw. However, when the move fell apart with a loose touch from their captain, Arteta wheeled away in frustration on the touchline throwing his hands skywards.
The age-old question with Aubameyang is if he is not scoring goals then what is he offering to the team?
This is generally a bit disrespectful as the 32-year-old possesses quiet leadership traits that often go under the radar, and his work rate in the press is normally pretty solid.
But in terms of chance creation his continued slump in form created a real issue for Arteta and the Arsenal side in general.
As the captain and best paid player, leaving him out would create more of a story around the team than the Spaniard will surely want at this stage in the season.
But at the same time Arteta must be seen to be picking his side based on a meritocracy.
Bukayo Saka has returned from his time away with England at the Euros and with Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette both looking sharp in pre-season a reasonable case can be made to suggest that Aubameyang shouldn’t start against Brentford on Friday.
It’s unlikely that this will happen for now, but if the Gabon forward’s indifferent form persists then it may well be a tough decision the Gunners have to make.
Transfer frustrations mount up
As is often the case with pre-season games the big story in the build up to the match was not who was in the squad, but rather who wasn’t.
The former, Arteta confirmed after the game, missed out through injury, while football.london understands that Willian is not close to a move away right now and was involved in training in the build up to the game despite missing out.
Willock’s absence meanwhile is still officially unexplained, although the lack of a concrete answer after the game might point to the suggestion that the England under-21 international could be set for a move to Newcastle very soon.
It is unclear whether the move will be permanent or a loan at time of writing, although it could signal the start of series of exits from the Emirates this summer.
With the season just five days away though it’s the incomings that will be a big concern.
They are expected to sign a back-up goalkeeper, with Aaron Ramsdale heavily linked, although that might not get done before the Brentford game.
A number 10 is also on the wishlist, while a centre forward and right back are also areas Arsenal could be in the market for depending on the players they can get out of the squad.
The display against Spurs on Sunday was worryingly similar to the very worst of what we saw last season, in terms of the toothless offering going forward and it will be difficult to significantly improve that without some additions to the first team.
For his part Arteta claimed that he will work with the tools he’s given in terms of the squad he’s got.
“I don’t know what will happen,” the Spaniard said. “Again I repeat myself. We train with the players we have available.
“We try to do the right things to improve the team in the areas that are needed. At the moment we came so far and there’s still a window that is open.”
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There is nearly a month of the window to go, so to press the panic button right now would undoubtedly be premature.
But Arteta cut a frustrated figure on the touchline for most of the game. If he is not backed with the squad additions he undoubtedly needs before August 31 then it will be hard to really blame him.
The Spaniard is not totally blameless but he needs help if he is to get this squad that finished eighth last season up to the levels they desire.