Matteo Guendouzi – Ask any Arsenal fan who kept a close eye on the Gunners in pre-season, and they likely would have been very impressed with the young Frenchman’s performances. The general consensus was however he would be unlikely to start the opening Premier League fixture, and certainly was more likely to be a Europa League and Carabao Cup regular for his debut season in England. Yet he showed astounding maturity for a 19 year-old who’s last competitive fixture came for Lorient in the French Second Division. Sat in front of a stretched defence, he showed energy, a willingness to receive the ball in tricky positions (which he did frequently thanks to the dangerous passing of his teammates), and a desire to dictate play even when he looked to be going through a rough spell during the game. Although he was arguably at fault for Raheem Sterling’s opener, he refused to let mistakes cloud his game. There is clearly an aspect of rawness to his game – if the team is to be successful with Emery’s desire to build from the back, he will need to have a greater pass accuracy than 80% – but he received the most touches, attempted the most passes and won the most fouls of any Arsenal player, illustrating a confidence and bullishness in Guendouzi clearly lacking in some of his more experienced teammates. After that performance, I would like to see him given more game time in the Premier League as he has the makings of a very strong central midfielder.
Mesut Ozil – The Marmite Midfield Maestro appears to have, once again, produced another divisive display in an important game. There has been some talk of his lack of hunger over the past season as the German missed the last several games of 2017/18 with a ‘back injury’, and that has reared its head after Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City. I have been critical of Ozil in the past, and particularly his defensive work-rate, but I don’t believe his dedication can be questioned this time. During a first half in which Arsenal were very open on the flanks, Ozil looked to track back as often as possible in an attempt to shield Hector Bellerin from the pacey Mendy x. Sterling axis; he ended the game with the most ball recoveries. The goal may have come from that side, but that doesn’t detract from a willingness to help out in his own third of the pitch. Whereas previously the German has looked languid and disinterested at times, the anger he displayed this time was not as passive. He appeared to use it to spur him on. The few attacking moments of promise created by the Gunners either fell to him or were created by a moment of good play. When moved centrally during the 2nd half, he stepped up his game more, undoubtedly due to the lack of defensive burden. Following an Ederson mistake, he probably should have scored, and a cut back from the left wing presented him with another decent opportunity. Overall, whilst by no means a vintage display, he addressed some concerns I had over his defensive willingness and demonstrated a grit I haven’t seen much of since he joined Arsenal.
Alexandre Lacazette – Those who have either read my previous articles or who follow me on Twitter know that this season I have not been an advocate for starting Lacazette centrally and pushing Aubameyang out to the wing. It’s still early days under this new system, but the impact the Frenchman made when coming on in the 2nd half showed what he could bring to the team. Coupled with moving Ozil centrally, the attack flowed much better with him on the pitch. His touch looked sharp, he appeared a little stronger than I remember him last season, and there were signs of a connection between him and Aubameyang that, against weaker opposition, should provide goals. The one chance he fashioned was a tricky one to take, and he did well to get it vaguely near the goal. Given more opportunities, he is the kind of striker who can be lethal in the box. The problem is, he needs more chances to be created for him than was the case on Sunday.
Petr Cech – At times it was hard to watch the veteran keeper struggle with the ball at his feet. He commented afterwards that it was a nice change from kicking the ball long. Speak for yourself Petr, because I’m not sure my heart can take another 90 minutes of wayward passes, poor touches, and unbelievable own goal attempts. A sadistic part of me wishes that near miss had have found its way to the back of the net, because it would’ve instantly become one of the all time great football GIFs. It may seem harsh, but the expression about teaching a dog new tricks exists for a reason. At 36, it will be difficult for him to adapt to playing from the back, especially as he is visibly uncomfortable receiving on the right foot. To his credit, he didn’t shy away from the challenge, and made some crucial saves at times. Arguably he could have done better with Sterling’s effort, but Emery remarked afterwards that he will continue as the starter. If a crucial part of this Emery style will be to build out from the defence, the goalkeeper needs to be comfortable on the ball. Leno was signed for £20 million this Summer, and although off the back of a suspect season in Germany, at 26 he is clearly the future of the club. More adept with this style of play, I hope he is given the chance to make the spot his own soon, as Cech clearly suffered when pressed by City’s attackers.
Henrik Mkhitaryan – Probably the most disappointing performance by an Arsenal player on the day goes to the Armenian for me. Clearly, the plan for Arsenal was to deny Manchester City space centrally, with the wide attacking players assisting the fullbacks in the defensive third. The left side of the defence was always going to be a vulnerability, with the inexperienced Maitland-Niles up against the pace of Walker and trickery of Mahrez. This makes the poor effort at tracking the runs from Mkhitaryan even more shocking. Wave after wave of City attack focused on that flank, and every time he allowed his opposing man to brush past him with ease. One time in particular stood out, as Walker breezed past Mkhitaryan despite the Arsenal player having at least a 10 yard head start. Obviously it is difficult to account for the explosive pace of the City defender, but the fact that Mkhitaryan didn’t even pick up a booking in the 90 minutes shows a lack of commitment and desire that I thought bordered on pathetic. I’m not advocating kicking players for no reason, but you would think even out of necessity it would be beneficial to the team to take a tactical yellow card at some point. Further, it forced the central midfield to cover out wide at times, leaving spaces for Sterling in the centre and thus completely negating the effectiveness of the entire defensive structure. Many people would criticise Xhaka for failing to control the area, but that is not his game, and it shouldn’t be expected of him. Once Lichsteiner and Aubameyang were on the left side, City’s attacks down that wing were dealt with much better.
Creatively too he disappointed. On the rare forays into the offensive third in the first half, he dallied on the ball too long, allowing the impressive Laporte to cover the runs of Aubameyang. Some of his passing was wayward for a player of his creativity. Given this is what he is in the team to provide, it is extremely concerning that he failed in this department as well. He failed to make a single successful dribble in 90 minutes, completely nullifying the attacking threat of the side he occupied. After a pre-season in which he failed to sparkle, and given he had the Summer off, it was a worrying first outing for the Armenian.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – It might be harsh to call Maitland-Niles a ‘loser’ as he was set for an uphill battle from the beginning. As if battling one of the most potent right sides in European football wasn’t bad enough for a 20-year-old central midfielder, the lack of protection only steepened the climb. I felt sorry for him at times, as Mahrez toyed with him repeatedly, and express-train Walker bombed on the overlap. To compound matters, the one time he kept pace with Walker and won the ball, he injured himself in the process. The seriousness of his injury is unknown at this stage, but it is a major blow to his first team chances. With competition in central areas so fierce (due to numbers if nothing else), the left-back injury crisis at Arsenal presented him an opportunity to impress the new manager with a run of first team starts, and hopefully prove himself worthy of game time in the middle. Should he be out of the Chelsea game, that opportunity appears to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. Given the potential he showed last season, and which the club and Head Coach clearly see in him, it is really disappointing that he might not get an opportunity to show his worth against a team that aren’t as terrifying going forward.
Probably the main takeaway would be to steer clear of the Arsenal defence until they have had time to adapt to the new system and style. Both fullbacks pushed on as expected, and despite conceding two goals, Bellerin managed score 17 BPS and had a decent opportunity, albeit comfortably saved. Lichsteiner looked impressive in the context out of position and created a chance whilst shoring up the Arsenal’s left side when coming on. Wait for news on the injuries to Monreal and Maitland-Niles, but at £5.0m he might represent a decent pick if he is given a starting berth. Although he looked extremely suspect, Cech registered highest on the BPS for Arsenal players due to making six saves. If Arsenal’s keepers are frequently kept this busy, at £5.0m, either he or Leno (please let it be Leno) might be a good option for those looking to save funds in that area.
If you are hopeful for the Arsenal attacking assets this game did reveal some interesting trends. The central player behind the striker frequently pushed on beyond, and took up the most advanced attacking position. Until his substitution at 53 minutes (more due to fatigue than a bad performance) Ramsey was breaking beyond Aubameyang almost every time Arsenal got the ball forward. In the second half, Ozil did the same, creating the Gunners’ best attacking opportunities of the match. At £7.5m and £8.5m respectively, those two would continue to be my go to picks if you wanted an Arsenal player in your side for their favourable fixtures come GW3. The defensive nature of the wide players was game specific, so this will unlikely be the case every week under Emery. Whether or not Lacazette will be given a start or not against Chelsea is up for debate. Were it at home, I’d be more confident he would, but Emery’s post-match comments, where he said he wasn’t as happy with the performance in the 1st half, indicate he has a good chance. Unfortunately, the £9.5m price bracket puts him right in line with Firmino and Vardy, both of whom returned points in GW1, and both of whom are guaranteed starters. It would be far safer to choose one of those two. It is too early to say Aubameyang should be transferred out. If you went with him for GW1, you had to have expected he might not return in the opening two fixtures. After the Chelsea game though, it is time for him to step up, and the jump to Aguero is always open if he doesn’t perform. If my previous section of Mkhitaryan didn’t convince you enough, I strongly advise steering clear of him. £7.0m may seem tempting, but the extra £0.5m to Ramsey is definitely worth it. A sideways move to Pascal Groß, or a downgrade to one of the many tempting £6.5m midfielders should be very high on your to-do-list. Unless you have an injury or suspension, I don’t advocate a transfer in GW1, but the way he was playing at the weekend he looked like he had a broken leg. He may well do if I see him before the clash at Stamford Bridge!