Sead Kolasinac gives Wenger formation encouragement
It took a few minutes to work out how the Arsenal XI would line up for their first pre-season friendly at Sydney FC, with the debut of Sead Kolasinac prompting particular question marks.
With the prodigious Cohen Bramall also in the starting XI, would Gunners fans get a glimpse of the new addition from Schalke in his anticipated left-wing-back role?
With the lack of central defensive options available to Arsene Wenger at present and with the manager hailing the Bosnian’s versatility upon his arrival last month, perhaps it should have been expected that he would trial him there in a pre-season he admitted he will be experimental in?
Kolasinac showed that he can be a vehicle to making the 3-4-2-1 setup a long-term strategy rather than a quick fix with a composed and solid showing on the left-hand side of the central defensive trio.
He used the ball effectively, was strong in the challenge and showed impressive link-up with the tireless Bramall from a deep position to convince Wenger he has the perfect player to field in multiple positions within the new system.
Mesut Ozil offers timely reminder of his class
Just over 24 hours after delivering a promising update on his Arsenal future to the fans, Mesut Ozil was showing just why he is so highly-valued with a performance full of craft and class.
The German was at his busy best, picking up holes in front of the hosts’ defence and supplying killer passes to those around him and the rapport he showed with the young midfield players around him was telling of his leadership amongst the group.
While Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck toiled in attack, Ozil was the player driving Arsenal forward for large spells of this game with his probing passes and intelligent movement.
Alexandre Lacazette did not get to share any pitch time with the German but will have been licking his lips at the prospect of playing in advance of Ozil in future games.
It should be caveated that this was against a poor Sydney team, but in a summer where the apparent lack of suitors around Europe has been used as a stick to beat him with from some amid his contract stalemate, Ozil reminded everyone of his quality.
Lacazette showed he can coexist with Giroud
Some may argue Kolasinac was played out of position, though his proven versatility was one of the key attributes identified by Wenger in his new defender.
Lacazette’s starting position felt more experimental but the timing of his runs into the penalty area and ability to get close to Olivier Giroud offered an intriguing example of how the duo can coexist.
While Ozil used his interview yesterday as an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to Arsenal, Giroud opted for the come-and-get-me-plea approach by refusing to rule out a move.
The common consensus is that Lacazette’s arrival will force Giroud out the exit door due to a lack of playing time, but the connection they showed in their 20 minutes together on the field offered Wenger food for thought.
Departures will have to happen after such a flurry of signings – but that doesn’t necessarily have to include Giroud.
Alex Iwobi makes a statement
2016/17 was difficult for Iwobi, as he endured a regressive campaign following his burst onto the first-team scene a year previously.
After such a rapid emergence, it was to be expected and his downturn in form owed to Wenger’s overuse of him and as he tired, his performances became less and less effective.
With 10 changes made with just 20 minutes to go in Sydney, it was asking a lot of the players brought on to the field to make a significant impression in that space of time.
Lacazette was the obvious selection but Eddie Nketiah’s performance will have pleased Wenger and so too will Iwobi’s.
His decision making has often been called into quetion but the way he picked up his head, waited for the perfect moment and teed up Lacazette for an easy finish helped him to prove a point to any doubters.
A word on the youngsters
It would be remiss not to praise the contributions of Reiss Nelson, Cohen Bramall and Joe Willock as each held their own on their first-team debuts, even if it was non-competitive action.
Nelson was the star of the show, rightly claiming the man of the match award after a performance full of attacking incision, skill and maturity in his decision-making as he impressed from a right-wing-back station.
If it had not been for Nelson’s eye-catching cameo, Willock and Bramall probably would have attracted more deserving plaudits.
Bramall, let’s not forget, was working in the Bentley car factory in Staffordshire not so long ago and yet his performance in Sydney belied his tender years at a top-level football club.
Willock’s performance too was remarkably intelligent for someone so young and he made a mark on the game with some clever passing and an energy Arsenal may come to need from alternative central midfield options this season.