Arsenal contested their final pre-season game of the season in Stockholm this evening when they took on Italian side Lazio in the Friends Arena.
After a strong pre-season campaign for new manager Unai Emery, the Gunners wanted to finish their last friendly game strong – and they did, thanks to goals from Reiss Nelson and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The captain on the day was the returning Granit Xhaka, and he led the team out in what was not an overly packed Friends Arena. This could be down to the confusion surrounding the fixture, which was initially intended to be against Emery’s old side Sevilla but changed due to fixture congestion on their end.
Nonetheless, those who had gathered played witness to a strong performance that may have asked as many questions as it answered for the new manager ahead of the opening fixture of the Premier League season against Manchester City on August 12th.
The starting line-up for the match combined everything you want to see from a pre-season line-up: there were 3 new signing starters in Stephan Lichtsteiner, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno; 2 fringe youngsters in Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah; and some more game time for players where the verdict may not yet be made such as Alex Iwobi – who recently signed a new long-term contract - and Alexandre Lacazette.
The starting defence, with the exclusion of Lichtsteiner was also very youthful, comprising Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland Niles. Emery stated when he was appointed that he intended on playing younger players alongside veterans as he believed this to be one of the best ways to learn, and one feels that it will become a common characteristic of his management.
Some bad news emerged before the game when it was announced that the injury Sead Kolasinac picked up during a clash with Victor Moses in the Chelsea friendly a few days ago will leave him side-lined for approximately 10 weeks, with the earliest the defender could return expected to be the Leicester City game on October 20th.
The game effectively opened with Lichtsteiner elbowing Lazio player Radu in the face when he leapt up for a header. The Swiss defender got a talking to, but nothing more – a fine way to start his time in Gunner red.
After 18 minutes, Arsenal found the lead. Some smart play from Iwobi, who was released by the eventual scorer Nelson, struck the ball towards Proto in the Lazio goal, beating him but hitting the post and landing invitingly at the feet of the onrushing Nelson who makes no mistake tapping in from close range.
Almost immediately afterwards, the Rome side who came fifth in last seasons Serie A had a fine chance when club captain Lulic had a free header, but could not generate enough power to trouble Leno.
Iwobi had another chance come close just before the whistle, but the half ended 1-0. Upon the teams coming out for the second half, Guendouzi and Aubameyang took the places of Nketiah and goal scorer Nelson.
Lacazette, who hasn’t been short of goals in this pre-season campaign, looked like he had a firm claim to a penalty early in the second half when Radu took him down, but it was waved off.
More players got a run-out on the hour mark, when Emery changed Lichtsteiner, Xhaka, Iwobi and Torreira for Hector Bellerin, Mohamed Elneny, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Very soon after these changes, Arsenal’s two out-and-out forward men combined to score. Lacazette passed the ball over to Aubameyang, who, with the help of a deflection found the bottom corner with a driven low-shot.
As mentioned, performances like this one may ask as many questions as it answers for Emery, but having two players of the quality of Aubameyang and Lacazette is always a good thing, that may be accompanied by a positive headache in how to get the best from them.
Lazio made some wholesale changes of their own, including the introduction of Correa, who made the move to Rome from Sevilla in the hop of replacing Felipe Anderson, who is now plying his trade with West Ham United.
Sokratis Papastathopolous, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Holding, Chambers and Lacazette with 10 minutes to go, and with so many changes, the game began to fizzle out a little bit.
In the closing stages, Lazio goalkeeper Proto did very well to keep out efforts from Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Elneny.
An that was that – full time in Sweden, and another positive result to round-off the pre-season.
Boreham Wood, Crawley Town, PSG, Chelsea and Lazio were all bested in friendlies by Emery’s side, with Atletico Madrid the only side to claim the spoils following a penalty shootout win.
And obviously pre-season games, as this one shows, can’t be read into too much due to the massive amount of changes and game pacing, it’s still good to come out of them on the winning side.
Next up, though, is the real thing.
Sunday week, the Premier League returns for Arsenal, and there will definitely be a different atmosphere during the game when Manchester City come to the Emirates.
In the time between now and then, there may also be another new face or two making their way to North London. The two names that are most prevalent, perhaps, in this late stage of the window (that closes in 5 days) are Ousmane Dembele at Barcelona and Domagoj Vida at Besiktas.
Both players will have plenty of suitors, and whether they are brought in or not, these next few days seem certain to get a little bit ridiculous when it comes to transfer news, as the dying stages of a transfer window often has want to do.
The final word from the Stockholm win over Lazio, though, is one of positivity. The forwards combined well, the new signings had some play-time to settle and the youngsters had a big impact on the game.