Arsenal made a winning start to pre-season earlier today. Here’s some of the things we learned.
1. Reiss Nelson looks like a star in the making
Pre-season game or not, it’s hard not to get a bit giddy when a young player puts in such an impressive performance. The 18-year-old terrorised the Sydney defence with his pace and trickery, and will have excited plenty of the Arsenal fans in attendance.
Arsene Wenger has already said that Nelson will be involved more with the first team next season. Performances like Thursday’s will go a long way towards justifying that decision. A strong pre-season may result in Nelson feature in Arsenal’s cup games next season. We’ll look forward to seeing what more he has to offer.
2. Joe Willock softens the blow of losing older brother Chris
Another youngster that stood out was Joe Willock. The midfielder has gone under the radar at Arsenal due to the impressive performances of his older brother, Chris. However, with Chris now playing for Benfica, Joe will have an opportunity to show what he can do.
He got off to a good start with his performance against Sydney. He looked at home in the Arsenal team, accurate with his passing while also having good poise and skill on the ball. In an area where Arsenal have a lot of talent, he looks to be one to an keep eye on throughout the season.
3. The back three is looking good
While pre-season friendlies seldom offer a strenuous test for new formations, Arsenal are looking more and more comfortable using a back three.
The team were able to recover their shape quickly against Sydney and snuff out any chance they might have. On the ball, they found passing forward into midfield much easier and were able to construct quick, penetrative attacks by combining the attacking midfielders with the wing-backs.
It was quite something to see Arsenal play the final twenty minutes of the game with two central midfielders in defence, but it perhaps shows a commitment to the formation. We’ll see how it fares in the tougher friendlies to come this summer.
4. Walcott and Welbeck need to sharpen up
While you don’t want to be too hard on the players during pre-season, few will have been encouraged by Walcott’s and Welbeck’s performance in front of goal. The two Englishman are fighting for a spot in the Arsenal starting eleven, but did little to convince others, certainly Arsene Wenger, that they should be starting.
Walcott, especially, had a bad time of it as he failed to score despite numerous opportunities. While he should improve as pre-season goes on, the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette, and his subsequent goal, has raised the standard for the Arsenal forward.
5. Australia loves Arsenal
It was fantastic to see a neutral venue packed almost entirely with red shirts. Over 80,000 fans came out to see Arsenal play Sydney and helped make Arsenal’s first game in Australia for over 40 years feel like a special occasion.
While the journeys are long, these pre-season tours give the club an opportunity to connect with its worldwide fanbase, and to see such overwhelming support on the other side of the globe should give the players a lift.