Jesus intense as ever
Sometimes you’ll go through a day without really feeling hungry before you have a small snack and realise how starving you were all along. This is what Gabriel Jesus’ arrival in North London feels like.
Arsenal fans almost blinded themselves trying to squint to see the positives in Alexandre Lacazette’s anaemic displays as the club’s number nine last season. The Frenchman tried his hardest, but his leaden-footed approach to pressing, and seeming refusal to do anything but come short to link play made the Gunners depressingly easy to defend against.
Now suddenly they have a striker capable of pressing high, running in behind, linking play, and, most importantly, scoring goals. All of these characteristics were on display at the M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, but what stood out most from watching the Brazilian closely in the flesh for the first time was just how intense he is in everything he does.
From the first few minutes in Jesus had already managed to involve himself in a scrap with Yerry Mina, and while other strikers may have wilted under the challenge, the 25-year-old was more than ready for the fight. From that point on the Brazilian’s back was up and he began buzzing around the Everton backline like a wasp looking for the sting of revenge. As the ball ran wide, sensing a chance to exact some payback on Mina for their earlier scuffle, Jesus launched a cute shoulder barge into the Colombian that demonstrated he was not one to be pushed around.
This may have been a low stakes warm up game, but from the way Jesus approached it you would never have known. On the stroke of half time he was hacked down when through on goal, prompting a yellow card as punishment. Upon raising himself to his feet though the Brazilian spent the walk back to the tunnel in the break demanding that Godfrey should have been sent off instead for denying him a goalscoring opportunity.
Saka provides glimpse of exciting attack
Mikel Arteta’s hand may have been forced slightly by injuries to Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe, but the front three that took to the field against Everton of Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka is perhaps the strongest Arsenal have at their disposal right now. Watching it for the first time in Baltimore, certainly showed why there is plenty of excitement for the coming season at the Emirates.
As already mentioned, Jesus’ incessant intensity will be a problem for opposition defences, but their headaches will only be added to by the presence of Arsenal’s two youngsters out wide. Both Saka and Martinelli showed how much of a threat they are due to their ability to go both ways in wide positions. Martinelli’s end product is admittedly the worse of the two, but the chaos they create will be a nightmare.
The only cloud over the anticipation to see this three regularly in the coming season is the uncertainty over Martinelli and Saka’s future. Saka in particular, will be one Arsenal want to tie down after he demonstrated his class once again by pouncing on Jesus’ loose ball to Martinelli to finish at the back post.
Speaking after the game, Mikel Arteta admitted he was hopeful of getting a contract extension sorted for the England international at some point this summer. “We will try,” the Spaniard said. “We both have the same intention. It’s a matter of time.”
If Arsenal are able to tie the pair down, having already secured the long term futures of Jesus, Vieira and Eddie Nketiah, the thought of how this young attacking line could develop over the coming years is enthralling. Add to that the fact that the Gunners would like to add another forward player into the mix for further strength in depth this summer and the future most certainly looks bright.
As soon as football.londonbroke the news that William Saliba was going to be starting in Arsenal’s pre-season friendly against Everton, the hype to see how he would get on was huge. We had all heard about how well the Frenchman had done with Marseille last season, but seeing him do it in a Gunners shirt was a different matter altogether.
For someone who is still yet to have actually played a competitive match for Arsenal, the hype around Saliba is unparalleled. Mikel Arteta did well to quell some of the anxiety over his future by claiming in the build up that the 21-year-old is part of his plans for the future, but having set up Saliba to succeed, it was now over to him to deliver.
He did not disappoint. It would have been understandable if nerves had crept into the young centre back’s game amid the scrutiny that is on him, but in the humid Baltimore night at the M&T Stadium, the game was a summer breeze for Saliba.
Admittedly he wasn’t tested too much in the first half, but when he was called upon we got to see some of the traits that make him such an exciting defender. There was one instance where Everton looked to counter attack quickly and had Dominic Calvert-Lewin baring down on goal. Saliba was only dribbled past 17 times in 51 appearances for Marseille last season, and exhibited his elite one-vs-one defending to stop the England striker without needing to go to ground in the box. The offside flag may have gone up, but the message about Saliba’s competence was clear.
Calvert-Lewin also presents one of the more stereotypical aerial threats from strikers that Saliba is likely to face in the English game, but he more than stood up to that. On the ball the Frenchman was efficient if unspectacular, and it will be fascinating to see whether his dribbling ability can match up to those of Ben White when he begins to gain more confidence.
The second half saw a formation change from a back four to a back three, and although this lost Arsenal the initiative in the game, Saliba was able to swim through as serenely as the ducks on Baltimore’s nearby Inner Harbour before eventually being withdrawn just after the half hour mark.
Social media unsurprisingly went in to overdrive about this impressive debut, and speaking after the game Arteta was happy to participate in the positivity. “Really good,” the Spaniard told football.london when asked about Saliba’s second debut. “I think he played a really good game, he looked really composed. Straight away from day one he looks really focused. He has evolved the way we wanted, and I think he had a really good performance.”
The evolution point here appears to be the most important one for Arteta. When Saliba arrived for the first time in North London he was a raw, inexperienced youngster deemed too much of a risk to take a gamble on in favour of Arsenal’s more experienced centre backs at the time. Now, with 18 more months of senior football under his belt, the Frenchman looks ready to step up and contribute to Arsenal’s quest to get back into the Champions League this season.
On to Orlando
Despite some early hiccups with the training location, the trip to Baltimore has proved a positive one for Arsenal. Their training at the US Naval Academy of Maryland has been successful in raising spirits as well as fitness, and with another win under their belts they maintained a 100% start to pre-season.
The club’s American fans have been welcoming and enthusiastic, providing a great atmosphere at the M&T Stadium on Saturday night. Their relentless booing of Dele Alli and chants of “U.S.A.!” each time new signing Matt Turner made a save were among the more entertaining moments among the crowd. The Arsenal players and staff have enjoyed themselves and after the game Mikel Arteta was keen to express his gratitude.
“It’s been great,” the Spaniard said of the first leg of his side’s U.S. tour in his post-match press conference. “We didn’t know what to expect, but it was 40,000 supporters here, 35,000 of them Arsenal fans. So thank you so much for them to come. They really make a difference and the boys appreciate that, that’s why they did the lap of honour at the end. Incredible. So happy and thank you.”
The Gunners now fly out to Orlando where they will face Orlando City on Wednesday, before rounding off the tour with a London derby against Chelsea. Whether they are able to add another signing in Oleksandr Zinchenko by the time they’re scheduled to return to North London in a week’s time remains to be seen.