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Arsenal Preseason Prognostication

Good morning Gooners. It’s another day closer to the start of the 2018-2019 season and we’re down to one preseason friendly remaining. Looking at the 4 games we’ve played and the countless videos of training, we wondered, is there much that can be gleaned from what we’ve seen so far.

Maybe not, but we’re going to try any way.

First, what is the actual purpose of the preseason? Michael Watts a fitness coach in the Premier League puts it like this:

“Pre-season is a great opportunity to overload the players with double sessions to give them a superior base of fitness,”

“You have six weeks to get everyone in shape – each individual is different, so they need bespoke training plans and diets that progress at the right pace.”

One of my favorite Arsenal bloggers, Tim Stillman (@stillberto) said this yesterday:

In both cases I absolutely agree. Its not worth it getting tucked into whether we’re performing as a functioning defensive unit or if the midfield is supporting play right, for the first teamers its all about the fitness and for the youngsters its about prolonging their time practicing with the first team.

You need only look to how Mesut Özil and Aubameyang handled yesterday’s friendly vs Chelsea – they looked like they were clearly pacing themselves. Working out the kinks and the movements and doing everything they could to avoid injury but continue to get a feel for how Emery wants to play.

But what can we learn?

The Kids Are Alright

As Tim mentioned the pre-season friendlies are a chance for the youngsters getting time to try and stand out and force their way into the thinking of the manager for use over the length of the season.

Two of the kids are certainly doing that. Matteo Guendouzi and Emile Smith-Rowe have both had excellent pre-seasons and I am sure we will see plenty of times through at least our cup runs and possibly more.

Guendouzi when bought, was instantly marked as one for the future, but with his consistent performance, after consistent performance he has shown that the future may not be that far away.

Against Chelsea yesterday he played deeper and controlled the tempo and flow of the game. It showed a level of footballing intelligence you don’t always associate with a 19- year old. That intelligence with an amazing array of passing techniques has many people wondering if Granit Xhaka should be worried about a starting spot.

Emile Smith-Rowe just signed a long-term contract extension at the club. And that’s a very good thing. The young lad has had himself compared to the likes of Kevin De Bryune (his hair) and Jack Wilshere (they are English) but he is a prospect entirely his own.

Like Guendouzi he has gone from strength to strength this pre-season, capping that off with a stellar performance against PSG. He also featured last night, coming in as a last-minute starter when Aaron Ramsey was taken off just prior to the match starting.

As an attacking midfielder he could be a long-term heir apparent to Mesut Özil when the German’s contract is up. He has excellent dribbling and passing skills and as his goal against Atletico showed can score some pretty amazing goals as well.

However, he is 18 and like Guendouzi will likely spend more time developing with the U23s than with the first team and that’s not a bad thing for either of them.

As we’ve said for most players on all teams, pre-season isn’t about playing at full pace. In 8 days the Premier League starts and then its for real. The pace and physicality will start to pick up and players like our young lads here may find the little errors they made in pre-season become game-costing mistakes.

Regardless, both have shown themselves worthy of further attention and consideration by Emery.

The Press Needs Time

 Pressing, counter-pressing and eventually counter-attacking are all the most over used buzz words of football right now. It’s something everyone is trying to execute, and Unai Emery is no different.

“When we are without the ball, we also want to show ambition to recover the ball quickly.”

“We want to demonstrate that not only in every match, but also in every training session.

“We want our players to be energetic, full of action with or without the ball and as protagonists on the pitch doing things.”

Pressing is defined as creating tension with the intent of getting the ball back. When you are trying to be a team that is pressing from the front you have to ensure that you establish access to the ball in order to exert pressure on the player with the ball.

What I am seeing is the foundations of us pressing but not doing what I like to refer to as the 5-second fury – that intense movement when the CBs have the ball and our forwards and midfielders are applying pressure to win the ball up high.

Positionally, the pressing is being set up and players are likely running at ¾ speed to close down the space and channels for passing but it’s still not 100% there in terms of understanding as I am still seeing avenues of escape for the opposition.

Klopp’s Liverpool took some time to get there. The good thing is unlike Klopp, Emery has had a full pre-season to work on setting it up. While it’s, not a finished product yet, it will be interesting to see how it comes along as we get into the real action

Did Anything Change with The Defense

 During the Chelsea match yesterday there was a lot of hand wringing about the state of our back 4. Hector was getting torched by a 17-year old pace merchant until he made a slight adjustment. Mustafi and Sokratis looked like they were still trying to get out of second gear and @Yankeegunner wondered aloud whether or not Kola is actually any good.

The point that I made to everyone is this – looking at the two teams, you saw Chelsea an organized defensive team, still working off the mindset of Antonio Conte. What he and Mourinho instilled in terms of defensive thinking isn’t going to leave their DNA any time soon. It showed. They were all good defensively.

Arsenal are still learning. As Hector said this week when pointing out the differences between Wenger and Emery:

“He gave you a lot of freedom and now Unai Emery is a bit more tactical, more organized on the pitch.

“Training is way different, we are working on different things that we didn’t use to with the [previous] boss.

“It’s different philosophies that have worked for them both and for us as players it’s just about replicating what they want on the pitch.

“We are getting used to it, we are working really hard to understand the way they want to train and the way they want is to play.”

The point is, while Mustafi is a concern I am not sure we should be reading too much into what has or hasn’t been achieved defensively as a team yet. If when during the season and we see the same old mistakes over and over again, then we have to wonder what is going on.

Additionally, we’re still not seeing the preferred lineups. Last night may have been closer to what we will likely see, but there is still time and the likes of Mavropanos, Holding and Chamberlain could likely force Emery to think about his preferred CB pairing.

Happiness Abounds

 There was some speculation that when Aubameyang came to Arsenal he might be “disruptive” in the training room. Oh boy is he. . .

That damn smile is everywhere. Players are dancing in practice and everyone just seems to be generally enjoying themselves.

Let’s just hold right there and not read too much into this.

Wenger was very protective of his sessions and you suspect he’d not like all the openness we are seeing in all the videos and images. So, there’s no way to really know what training was like.  The boys could’ve very well enjoyed themselves together last year as well.

The point is however, camaraderie is important. Emery is going out of his way to create a team in his own image and style. He is welcoming each player individually to each session and greeting them when they come into changing room.

It really is nice to see, especially given the dour pall that was over the entire club last season. I hope that as the season goes on and it the tough moments come, the players remember that happiness and togetherness because that and their talent will get them through it.

So what have you thought about our pre-season so far?

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