Arsenal, it seems, left their Inferiority Complex in Baku – Barcelona 2- Arsenal 1 in final pre-season run out





I am not just trying to be rose tinted.


Coaching taught me a while ago that winning matters but the game is often a collection of separate observations.


Take the score away as it matters little in pre-season and go with what overall feeling the game gave you. If you had this feeling before Suarez scored the winner, do not chuck it away and replace with an extreme negative adjective.


My feeling whilst watching Barca vs Arsenal has to be a feeling generated from pre-season as a whole as it is essentially one long match.


My pre-season feeling, again evident against Barca, was that our ‘inferiority complex’ was left in Baku.


I remember looking at our pre-season fixture list after Baku and getting big-eyed

Bayern, Real, Barca and Lyon was a tough set of games.

What has happened however is that I did not feel at any point during any of those four fixtures that we looked or looked like we felt inferiorThose are four CL Teams and three are considered among the top six in the world. We did not look Europa because we did not feel inadequate.

Whether it was the confidence to play out of the back, the improved 1 and 2 touch tempo, the willingness to not play subservient or the desire for the youngsters to raise their game and make a difference, Arsenal have made strides.

For too long we have been labelled as weak. When you throw away the inferiority complex, something else will replace it. I see confidence, determination and belief.

If we add an Umtiti and Tierney we will get much closer to City and Liverpool than people may think.



* Dani Ceballos, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were all left on the bench and Joe Willock started.

What a compliment!

As I said last week, Willock is a little of everything. Not brilliant at everything yet but well rounded.

Against Barca we saw the defensive side of his game rise. Goal line clearances, important tackles and interceptions.

Ceballos will show in time that he is also multi-talented but our other midfield options have strengths AND weaknesses. Xhaka embodies this.


What a compliment

Willock does not seem to have obvious weaknesses.

* Was the 4-4-2 just to keep Barca’s fullbacks from being adventurous?

It suits Auba and Laca. It doesn’t suit Ozil. It suits Iwobi and Mkhi (if they are going to feature) as they are better driving from deep.

It will push Pepe deeper but the 4-3-3 that I would use would push Auba wide left. Interesting to think on.


* AMN showed us everything. He was the best player in the first half. So confident in all situations. This can also be his downfall as he rides the line between confidence and over confidence as seen in his decision to delay clearing in second half and his own goal which screams, ‘it’s all good.’

We have a top player if he can stay calm yet serious.


Top player in there

* I loved our decision to slow the game down in their defensive third. When playing high-level possession you need a physical and mental break so the ball retention in their half worked.

* I had/have two main concerns over Nelson.

Is he interested in defending?

Can he make quicker and better decisions in transition?

Against Barca he did the former very well. The latter will come, as his natural gift is creativity. I would say he is thinking. Stop thinking Reiss. Play on instincts. It is your strength.


Talented Nelson

* Ozil needed that assist.

The criticism of him from those who do not scream is not just body language and effort, but productivity.

Ozil understands weight of pass better than most.


* If I were to guess what we have worked on defensively in pre-season, it would be ‘following runners.’

Barca struggled to create throughout as they rely on off ball movement.

All this good work came crashing down when Mustafi took a vertical nap.


* On to Mustafi… would you prefer that he was incredible pre-season, or that his flaws are exposed?

I want it to be crystal clear to the club that he makes at least one big mistake per game so we move on.

He did. That is probably good, just in case somebody thought he could be a backup.



* Chambers seems to more often than not, play to his potential. That is impressive. It’s not noticed either. The issue is that he can be flatfooted and lack agility so his ceiling is not as high as ‘an Umtiti.’

* My son kept asking me where Ceballos was. I was wondering too but told him that it might be best he did not play as he has mouthed off to the Catalans and may face a hurting.

He did.

I am glad he got out of there.


* Willock, Nelson, Saka, Martinelli and Nketiah just played in front of 90,000.

I just do not see the standard dropping when they play. In fact, it is often better. If Pepe were not ready for Sunday, I would sooner see Reiss Nelson than Mkhi.

With all our midfield options, quite honestly I would pick Willock then pick the other one or two.

If I have the option of Iwobi and Mkhi, I would leave them both behind and take Saka and Martinelli for the bench. Nketiah will at least see the bench often but he needs to be trusted when a goal is needed.


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* How do you recognize that a young player is a defender?

If he has a greater fear of losing than a desire to win.


After you have decided who your defenders are, the first thing you implant is how to think ‘worst case scenario.’

The worst case scenario against Barca is either a Messi dribble or the dink over the top. City offer the latter too.

If I were preparing us to play either, I would work on defending the ‘dinked ball.’

No square stance, no flat feet, see your runners and follow your runners.


Then Mustafi happened.

* What is the purpose in sending up your CB’s for corners and then go short and back to general play?


* I credit this thought to @stillberto.


When the game is played at Xhaka’s pace, Xhaka excels. When the tempo goes up and he cannot keep pace, he loses his mind.

I think this will be exposed this season as there are others waiting who don’t have this weakness.

I think Xhaka will play more than he deserves due to two reasons… lack of experience in midfield in other options and lack of defensive aerial ability at set plays in others.

I wonder if this is why we are looking at Khedira.


* If you watch all our pre-season highlights, you will see that the majority of chances created by our opponents are down to playing out of the back.

I am not saying drop the idea as it is working often.

I put all ideas on scales and wonder ‘is it worth it?’

I have noticed that it is not our CM’s lack of press resistance that is the major issue; it is when the ball is played to the wide player or CF with an opponent on his back that they nick it.





* Firstly, I am disappointed that we have sold Bielik. I recognize that they have seen him more than me but what I am struggling with is that many have been given chances in pre-season. He wasn’t.

I would have sold Xhaka and replaced him with Bielik.

Alternatively, I would have taken all of Mustafi’s wasted pre-season minutes and tried him at CB.

I do not understand why we did not let him prove that he is not good enough.

I think there will be big regret in the near future regarding this decision.


A sale to regret perhaps


* I love that we have signed Pepe. Mostly for how my club has now shifted our perception.

Only concern is that Auba was on fire on the right in pre-season.


* Coutinho at his best is elite. If we sign him, we have to raise him back to this level.

I would not do it as I think Nelson and Saka look like they are ready and I think one would ultimately leave.

It would no doubt affect one of Aube and Laca too.


* If Kos and Mustafi both leave and Mavropanos is still injured do we need two more CB’s, not one?

Especially if we intend to play three at the back on occasion.


* If I was to rewind to February and had the chance to pick the team I would have not put both Guendouzi AND Elneny on the bench or Iwobi AND Mkhi.

My biggest fear for the new season is that experience will get the nod to start and to be an option from the bench as I sense a nervousness in Kunai Emery that nudges him to make ‘safe calls’ rather than the ‘right call.’

If Xhaka is being Xhaka, play one of the other four. If Ozil is being Ozil, do not persist with 4-2-3-1, play 4-3-3. If Mkhi and Iwobi are offering sporadic influence, play Saka, Nelson or Martinelli.

If one of Auba or Laca is injured or out of form, do not play Pepe out of position or change formation, play Eddie.






I anticipate that we may have to wait to see Ceballos and maybe Pepe too.

Emery did this last season with Leno and Torreira at the beginning of the season. Made them earn their place.

Do not lose your head, back the coach and see the big picture.

Arsenal look like they may have reset their minds and do not need unnecessary negativity.

If the players DO have a new and improved mind-set, the fans can flip this and change it back with impatience.


Blogs after every game by @mike_mmcdonald and @GunnnersTown

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4 Responses to Arsenal, it seems, left their Inferiority Complex in Baku – Barcelona 2- Arsenal 1 in final pre-season run out

  1. Omar El-kilany August 5, 2019 at 8:26 am #

    Excellent read Mike, as usual, I agree with everything you said, you hit the nail on the head

  2. Andy August 5, 2019 at 9:12 am #

    Excellent analysis as usual. I thought we outplayed Barca for most of the match but the way we set up seemed to invite pressure and I don’t think many gunners fans enjoy that. AMN isn’t a natural defender but I have seen enough to convince me that with work he can make the right back position his own. I don’t think we have missed Bellerin because AMN has done so well

  3. DEW August 5, 2019 at 9:22 am #

    I agree with you that we might see less of young talents in the coming season. League cup and Europa league may help. Any way let’s see how the coach is developing his team. But one cb may be necessary.

  4. Victor Thompson August 5, 2019 at 10:59 am #

    Well put MIke. Its just a small thing, but I was glad to see your observation that Guendouz and Elneny should not be on the same bench, I have said as much in a previous blog.

    I did notice a huge improvement in the defence and there was a clear sign that more attention was given to coaching. Barca had to struggle to make progress in the final third and the standard shape of two ranks of 4 was visibly obvious, which has not been the case hitherto,

    By the way has anyone noticed the muscles AMN has grown since close season? He will not be outmuscled this season.

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