Pre-season friendly or not, I don’t think anyone who watched Saturday’s clash with Chelsea can be anything but underwhelmed by Arsenal’s general performance.
There were plenty of signs in the Bayern Munich match, which preceded the fixture against Chelsea, that we were a little disorganised, leggy, and generally underwhelming as a team.
Against the Germans, we rode our luck and capitalised with a late equaliser, affording us the chance to claim victory in the penalty shoot-out lottery and paper over the cracks of a pretty tepid performance.
Against Antonio Conte’s side, however, the team suffered the sort of defeat they arguably should have done against the Bundesliga champions. They created little, they were ponderous and wasteful in possession and, perhaps worst of all, they really seemed to suffer with their fitness.
Travelling to the other side of the globe is not easy, the humidity is clearly extremely oppressive and the schedule this pre-season has been busy for the Gunners.
Even without all that, and the bout of sickness that afflicted the squad, they simply haven’t looked good these past two games, which were much better indicators of where they are as a team as compared to the matches in Australia.
In fairness, we have enjoyed some excellent pre-seasons for the last five years or so and, on and each and every occasion, it seems to have had little or no bearing to how our league season has panned out – at least it certainly hasn’t helped.
It is also worth remembering that pre-season is all about looking at squad players, getting some minutes in the legs, and testing out new systems. To that end, it doesn’t really matter if you win 10 games 1-0 or lose them 1-0, what is important is that your team works hard on fitness and tactics ready for what really matters, the Premier League season.
But what bothers me most about the Chelsea game is how much better Conte’s men looked. Granted he started with an incredibly strong squad relative to ours, which, at times, has been makeshift, but they seemed to be fitter, sharper, and more in tune with one another than did Arsenal.
It was a limp performance which lacked any of the sort of signs of improvement that I would like to have seen at this stage.
Mercifully, we have a week now in which to rest, return home, and prepare for the Emirates Cup, where we should really start to see our team come together. I would hope to see fitness improve leaps and bounds in that time too, because a number of players seemed to be blowing pretty hard mid-way through the first half, which ultimately lead to Chelsea’s double-salvo just before the break.
I have had to remind myself not to get too carried away in all of this. It was just a pre-season friendly, of no consequence, and primarily a money-making exercise.
But you can’t help but be concerned when you see the same mistakes Arsenal made for the large part of last season rearing their head once again. We were giving away possession in our own third, the striker was horribly isolated up front and rendered ineffectual, and the defence imploded when the pressure was cranked up.
There is no other way to look at it – it was lousy.
Football is, of course, a fickle thing these days and one good result next week will be hailed a miracle by many fans, just another bad result will re-ignite calls for Arsene Wenger to leave.
In truth, what we really need to see is some signs of improvement – better fitness, better defence, and better understanding between players.