Arsenal slipped through the gears on Saturday as they eased past the Australian League’s very own Stoke City subsidiary, otherwise known as West Sydney Wanderers.
In some ways, it was good for the players to face up to something a little more physical than the rather genteel outing against Sydney FC a few days previously, with lusty challenges, shoves, and general foot-stampery aplenty.
Despite the makeshift nature of the side, and the wholesale tinkering, it was a decent effort from the Gunners, who were, quite clearly, in a different universe to their opponents, even if this was only a pre-season jaunt.
From an attacking point of view, the only thing missing was another four or five goals. Often with Arsenal, wastefulness has been their downfall but not so on Saturday, with just outright bad luck preventing them from turning this into a real rout, and me from successfully collecting a bet I’d had for Arsenal to score more than three goals.
Imagine my frustration as the ball clattered off the woodwork for the 93rd time in the second half, or was somehow pawed away by the goalkeeper against all the odds.
But my awful luck is neither here nor there; the Gunners created plenty of chances and really pushed themselves forward for 90 minutes, which was good to see.
Our defence was a little patchwork at times, with new faces tested out in various positions throughout the match, but they generally did ok. As has often been the case in recent years, they were a little careless in possession, which was largely the cause of the majority of our most pressing problems.
Sometimes, even in these heady days of possession-based football, it is right to just stick a boot through the ball, or find some space to loft it into, instead of trying to bisect two pressing attackers in order to find the midfield.
That aside, our various defensive combinations worked pretty well and we largely nullified any threat posed by the home side.
All things considered, it was another pleasing win and, more importantly, a good physical test against a rough and tumble opponent, the likes of whom we are likely to come up against in the Premier League.
My stand-out performer of the day was Eddie Nketiah who, once again, was very lively in possession and full of energy and running. He can count himself tremendously unfortunate not to have added his name to the scoresheet but it certainly wasn’t for want of trying.
It will be interesting in future to see how he fares against a better team, one which will see him put under much greater pressure defensively than he was on Saturday, a match in which he enjoyed the sort of freedom afforded to a wandering winger.
Until then, we can only judge the youngster on what he has achieved thus far and, credit to him, he has performed superbly. How much playing time he will get in China, against the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich, is unclear, but his manager will not have failed to notice how positive an addition to the squad he has been – as have other youth players.
It was also good to see the first green shoots of partnership between Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette. Although I doubt they will get much playing time together next season, unless we find ourselves really pushing for a late goal, it was impressive to see how well they linked up at times against Sydney.
Giroud has always had a good touch at close quarters, as his goal against Sydney again demonstrated, and his fellow Frenchman made excellent use of it in some neat exchanges. Here’s to more of that in 2017/18.
The final word will go to Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal, who combined to produce a truly superb goal for the Gunners. It was a beauty of a flighted ball that set the Welshman free, and an equally good run and first time finish that saw him lob the ball over the goalkeeper to stretch Arsenal’s lead. Top notch all round.