On Thursday evening, Arsenal took on Atletico Madrid in the opening match of the International Champions Cup in Singapore. And lost 3-1 on penalties.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock were all guilty of missing from the spot as Adan of Atletico saved their incredibly weak attempts.
Their misses had Singapore fans cussing in every possible language and dialect. I half-stood, half-sat amongst the crowd soaking in the angst, curse words, shouts (and humidity).
Ainsley Maitland-Niles scored the only penalty with a Panenka. Oh, does he like a little cheeky action. It shouldn’t have gone to penalties, in my honest opinion. Both sides had quite many chances to kill the game but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
I’m putting the blame squarely on Lacazette because the Frenchman had tonnes of chances and service yet his atrocious touch let him down. He and Lukaku could seriously fight it out for a ‘Who Has the Worst Touch?’ title.
He was also shooting straight at Jan Oblak for goodness’ sake. No wonder Didier Deschamps left him at home for the World Cup. Arsenal were dominating possession and creating chances. Our friend Lacazette, however, had other plans. He wanted to screw us over.
Lucas Vietto grabbed the opener in the first half when he headed Angel Correa’s cross in. He was left unmarked by both Rob Holding and the ever-annoying Shkodran Mustafi. Textbook defending that neither centre-back could get right.
Unai Emery will have to look long and hard at these two bumbling defenders before the start of the season or they could really cost us. Bright sparks came in the form of Matteo Guendouzi, our new signing, Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe. I caught a glimpse of Arsenal’s future, no kidding.
Guendouzi was so assured on the ball and in covering our defensive line. He worked tirelessly to carve Atletico open with incisive passes. He came off to a standing ovation. Not bad for a kid nobody knew much about.
The hype boy from last season, Nelson, held his own on the offensive front; creating all sorts of trouble for the Spaniards. It got to a point that Simeone instructed his troops to double-team on the youngster. He took everything in his stride with poise and a dose of swagger. The upcoming season could be huge for him.
Now, let’s talk about a certain academy lad, who scored a brilliant equaliser and goes by the name of Emile Smith-Rowe. For a 17-year-old with barely any senior experience, he made his presence felt and commanded the middle of the park like a veteran.
Bursts of mazy runs, coupled with very neat footwork and slick passing, made for a fantastic performance. Smith-Rowe is one to look out for but a loan move would probably be good for his development at this point.
More senior players like Aubamayeng, Ramsey, Bellerin, and Kolasinac put in decent shifts, though they have yet to hit top gear. Leno also had a nice first-half outing in between the sticks.
Cech, subbed on for Leno and who was sweating like a pig under his headgear, was feeling himself as he saved two penalties during the shootout and I just couldn’t help but wish he had some of that mojo last season.
It might be too early to assess Emery in only his second game at the helm. However, it was pretty obvious from the get-go that Arsenal was a lot more compact without the ball and kept their defensive shape quite well. It also seems that Wenger’s successor is implementing a pressing system of sorts.
The North Londoners press at intervals and in very quick bursts, leaving Atletico quite frazzled at times. I’m already taking a liking to Emery and his ideas.
Midway through the second half, Emery took most of the starting lineup out and replaced them with the likes of Mkhitaryan, Chambers, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Mavropanos, and Willock.
They did look a tad shaky and there were moments of very nervy defending when the backline decided to bounce the ball around with Cech. Must’ve been some sort of divine intervention that Simeone’s side didn’t score, considering we were almost presenting gilt-edged chances.
Oh, and there was a very interesting exchange that almost ended in a bit of fisticuffs. After a foul was called on Chambers, he refused to give the ball to the opposition and instead, lobbed the ball in the direction of Atletico’s bench, nearly hitting Juanfran.
The Atleti veteran immediately stormed out of his seat and wanted to engage the Englishman in a war of words and probably, fists.
Fortunately, he was held back by a staff member. Chambers then lobbed another ball in the same direction, only for another staff member to swat it away, volleyball-style. For his mischievous antics, the referee presented Chambers with the only card of the game.
As this feisty scene played out before our very eyes, I was seated, some 90 feet away, wearing my Arsenal jersey with “CHAMBERS 21” emblazoned across the back for thousands of others to see. I felt a little embarrassed if I’m telling the truth.
Still love him and that handsome mug of his, no matter what. Locked at 1-1 after 90+4 minutes, we went to penalties and as they say, the rest is history.
Emery, please work with our younger boys on the art of taking a penalty.
Here’s a few of my tips:
- Hit it with power and verve and NOT like how my 75-year-old nan would hit it
- Unless, of course, you’re Maitland-Niles or you could caress the ball gently into the back of the net
- Take a leaf out of Adan’s book and strike it top bins or into the roof of the net because those are absolutely (well not, exactly) unsavable, especially from an almost static position