The arranged friendly against Charlton Athletic at the Emirates was purely a game to dust of some of the cobwebs from inactivity. The healthy 6-0 win wasn’t an indicator of progress or form and come June 17th, after the Gunners have participated in one more organised friendly, it will be as insignificant as those pre-season jog-alongs or the Emirates Cup.
However no one can complain, it was just nice to see football in some form even if it all felt ….a bit creepy without an expectant crowd. It was also an opportunity to stop fantasising, dreaming, and talking about football and more importantly, see Arsenal in competition, not that the competition was resilient.
The result against Charlton Athletic wasn’t unexpected and if players had been fit, the tally may have been even bigger. There were no match officials, with the two sets of coaching staff assuming those duties and we saw the players turn up for duty in their kits, disembarking from their own cars to attend the match.
You couldn’t help but notice the vastness and eerie quality of the empty stadium, nor could you avoid the novelty of hearing the players shouting at each other, something that generally goes missing on match day. Apart from the distracting visual vacuum behind the players, you could actually hear the sound of a foot striking the ball.
There was a certain nostalgia to it all, football had found its roots and due to extreme circumstances, we’d all been transported back to a time of jumpers for goal posts, do it yourself refereeing and bags full of sweaty football kits.
Whatever next? Ozil cleaning his own boots? That’s something I find quite amusing.
In terms of entertainment, it was OK stuff, we saw the odd duff touch, short pass, and miss-hit, which is all part of the reboot process in the coming weeks.
Lacazette, Aubameyang, Nketiah (3), and Willock found their way on to the scoresheet but there should have been more and without wishing to appear greedy or critical, when opportunities come along from the 17th of June, the players they fall to will have to become more ruthless.
On the subject of opportunities, Ainsley Maitland Niles, the player that looked a certain to be shunted out of the Emirates come the summer because of his attitude, was given a final chance to show he has what he takes and that he can behave less like a petulant teenager and he took it.
Perhaps, he realised that with his reputation if Arsenal cashed in, his only destination was likely to be at a club with less pedigree or succession of clubs. There’s nothing like reality to restrain the antics of a developing ego and realign the focus and AML finally looked comfortable in an Arsenal shirt, even useful.
He hasn’t been anything extraordinary for me. A few decent games here and there which were out of position but more worryingly, when he did play in the middle he never looked the part. Well, whatever Arteta has said or done, there was a new urgency and directness about his endeavours. Roaming from a slightly deeper role and executing cutting run-ins and drawing markers out of position for the benefit of others.
His lay-off to Lacazette saw a blistering finish from the goal starved striker. I couldn’t hear his sigh of relief even in the empty venue, but I’m sure it was heard by those around him.
The Arsenal vs Charlton Athletic match should belong to Eddie Nketiah with his three-goal haul, but I’m still not entirely convinced about him. Three well-taken goals from the youngster but in an emergency, could he replace Aubameyang? That’s the question, isn’t it?
Later, Arteta decided to mix up the formation, no doubt trying to see who doesn’t fit in the long term and we even got to see a central pairing of Holding and Mari but with Saliba due at the Emirates, three of the four defenders for the starting role are likely to miss out.
Manchester City are waiting and they will represent a much sterner task than Charlton Athletic, who were simply no match for the experimental Gunners. Arteta will have an idea of his lineup already but there’s still time to make a few minor adjustments.
Starting Lineup Against Charlton Athletic:
Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, David Luiz, Tierney; Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles; Nelson, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette