Arsenal were much improved as they brushed past a workmanlike Benfica side in their opening match of the Emirates Cup on Saturday.
Their performance against Chelsea in Shanghai a week previously was sluggish, insipid and short of ideas, so it was good to see a response from the Gunners that appeared to address some of those shortcomings.
With another week of training under their belts, the players looked fitter and sharper, the movement was better, the passing was quicker and more incisive, and there was a much better shape and understanding about the squad.
There was also a greater ‘first team’ feeling about how we set up, with the more senior players – players you would expect to be in contention for Premier League places – featuring heavily.
Our travels to Australia and the Far East have seen us field bit-part teams featuring a lot of youth team hopefuls, and there is nothing wrong with that – it’s the perfect arena for them – but it was nice to see some of our best and brightest return to the fold, too.
I don’t think there were many people who weren’t impressed with the exploits of the human wrecking ball, Sead Kolasinac. He was superb as left wing back, strong, powerful and persistent. He had a hand in a couple of goals and looked the part in a big way.
He will face much sterner tests in the weeks and months ahead but his was nothing if not a good performance.
It was excellent to see both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud among the goals yesterday, too. Both players may find their first-team opportunities limited this season so it is important they keep working hard and stay hot on the heels of the players who, at the moment, are in front of them. Healthy competition is vital.
Kudos must rightly go to young Reiss Nelson, whose stock continues to rise after another strong attacking display. Although I am unconvinced he is best suited to a wing back role, you can’t question his skill and level of performance. He is more than capable of beating a man and getting to the byline, and it comes naturally to him, too.
If he can continue to add to his game, he could be a big part of the future of the club. How we fares going in the opposite direction is another matter, however, and he remains largely untested in that department. Time will tell.
The only real points of concern from yesterday’s match were the defensive lapses. Once again, Arsenal’s tendency towards scuppering themselves was very much in evidence.
On so many occasions last season we were our own worst enemy and it was the same again against Benfica. I don’t mind the Gunners playing out from the back, it is the way of the modern game, but they simply must iron out this proclivity for giving the ball away.
On two occasions yesterday- for both Benfica goals in fact – Arsenal defenders gave the ball away under pressure from a high press, leaving themselves hopelessly exposed. We were punished on both occasions. What frustrates about this is that we weren’t outplayed or outfoxed by our opponent, we gifted them the opportunities in the tamest way imaginable.
Sometimes, discretion is the greater part of valour, and the ball must simply be either played back to the goalkeeper or hoiked into space upfield. We won’t have the means to recover from going behind week-in, week-out in the Premier League so giving away cheap goals is not a sustainable way of playing.
Perhaps it is the absence of Santi Cazorla in a deep-lying midfield position that causes the defence to dither in possession on occasion, or maybe they are under strict orders not to go long. Whatever it is, Arsenal must dispense with the unforced errors if they are to be taken seriously this season.
But let’s not dwell on the dreary for too long. All things considered, it was exciting stuff from Arsenal and a good win against a decent opponent.
If they can follow it up with another good performance against Sevilla today (Sunday) it will set us up nicely for the week ahead.