Continuing their pre-season tour of Asia, Arsenal lost 2-0 to reigning Premier League champions Man City yesterday at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium. The scoreline flattered the champs as Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s long range shot caromed off two posts, denying the youngster, while City seemed to struggle at times with fluidity and in the end needed a clearly offside goal by Yaya Toure to get their second.
The rain came down in buckets but the local Arsenal support was in good voice for the full 90 minutes. Every Arsenal attack drew cheers from the largely local crowd and every shot saved drew loud groans. From where I sat, admittedly my couch, it felt like there were far more Arsenal supporters than Man City. You can buy the Premier League title, but you can’t buy history.
Arsenal’s starting lineup featured a nearly all-Brit back line of Gibbs, Bartley, Vermaelen (c), and Jenkinson. Behind them, Fabianski got the start in goal. Arsenal’s midfield three of Diaby, Song, and Arteta struggled extensively in the first half keeping possession and when going forward Song tried to over-elaborate and seemed intent on proving that every pass should be a chip for an assist. Up front, Santos and Walcott flanked Gervinho who seemed to be playing a more central role. The pairing of Santos with Gibbs is on the left is something I thought Arsene would try as Santos is naturally more forward inclined but also able to play defense, adding grit to the Arsenal midfield. In the end it was an effective starting triumverate and generated ample chances for the Gunners, albeit all from distance.
Shots from distance seemed to be the order of the day for the Arsenal as the Man City midfield gave the Gunners space while the City back line stopped nearly every forage into their area. City’s keeper, Pantsoflemon, was tested often and but for a few inches difference one of Jenkinson, Theo, or Oxlade-Chamberlain would almost certainly have scored.
Jenkinson played in a very advanced role on the right and, in fact, apart from his one long-rage shot which actually came from the left side of the field, I forgot that Theo Walcott was on the field for Arsenal.
Jenkinson’s forays forward produced decidedly mixed result. His shot on goal (pictured above) was an absolute rocket and seemed to be headed to the bottom corner but for the boot of Savic (I think). But defensively, Jenkinson showed positional naivete and often scrambled back to close down an opponent who had gotten free, or as happened for both goals, was pulled well out of position by trying to mark a runner too deep in the midfield, exposing Arsenal’s right flank entirely.
At half-time Nigel Winterburn pointed this out but also cautioned against being too harsh on Jenkinson because this is exactly what pre-season is all about: finding out which things players need to work on ahead of the season. I tend to agree with Nigel on almost everything and especially on this issue of Jenkinson. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt at least until the fist game of the new season, then start calling him the new Denilson-Ramsey-Senderos-Stepanovs. The one thing you can’t question is Jenkinson’s heart and graft. He busted a gut to get back and made a crucial block after Arsenal were caught out of position during a City counter. If he shows that same kind of hard work and determination in training, he will no doubt get better.
Arsenal made four changes at half-time, removing Diaby, Bartley, Arteta , and Walcott and putting on all their 10-point tiles: Miquel, Coquelin, Ox, and Chamakh. Ox played in the central midfield role and created one of the best chances of the game when his powerful long range shot left Pantieslemon flat footed as it caromed off first the near post, crossed the goal mouth and off the second post to deny the precocious Arsenal youngster a deserved goal.
It was an odd game for Arsenal as possession seemed to be at a premium until the second half and rather than trying to walk the ball in, Arsenal seemed happy to test the keeper from distance time and again. This is something that Arsenal supporters have been begging the team to do for a few years now, though I’m not sure we all meant that the club should take (nearly) every shot from outside the box.
Still, while it’s fun to watch the game and look for trends, it’s dangerous to read too much into this match. Arsenal were playing a 4-3-3 without Podolski and Giroud (against a mostly first team Man City) and Wenger has already intimated that he sees Poldi playing in a central role. Whether that means a change to a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 is something tht Gooners will hotly debate until the first game of the season when we are all formally introduced to Arsene Wenger’s 2-6-2 “midfield swarm”.
Arsenal’s defense also conceded from what looked like mental errors but as Nigel would say, those are the easiest to fix. Bould and Wenger have only had a few weeks to work on defense with this group so I am not too concerned.
Next up is FC Kitchee which is not actually a football team but rather a dish of rice, fish, and curry that is a hugely popular breakfast in some parts of England. I’m sure that the Ox will score a dozen and Arsenal will only concede one — an own goal when Jenkinson forgets the curry.