Arsenal‘s pre-season campaign continued with an entertaining victory over Benfica in the Emirates Cup this afternoon.
Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi were all amongst the goals on a rainy day in north London as the Gunners warmed up for next weekend’s Community Shield showdown with reigning Premier League champions Chelsea next week in some style.
In terms of major team news, manager Arsene Wenger opted to start just one of his two summer signings at the Emirates Stadium as record addition Alexandre Lacazette had to wait until the second half to be introduced to proceedings.
Arsenal 5-2 Benfica FT:
Lopez (OG) ⚽️
Arsenal top the group with 8 points after putting 5 past Benfica. pic.twitter.com/hu4vEMVMiY
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) July 29, 2017
But what did we learn as the Gunners put five past Benfica once again in this pre-season tournament where goals are worth an additional point?
Well, here’s five things…
1. Reiss Nelson can be very special
Based on this summer’s pre-season, Arsenal have a superstar in the making on the books and they simply must nurture his ability. Prior to the game Nelson revealed how surprised Mesut Ozil was upon learning he was only 17 years of age.
You can be assured that the experienced Eliseu wasn’t expecting such an uncomfortable afternoon against the youngster. Time and time again Nelson ran at the left-back – often skipping past him with ease – and wasn’t afraid to bring out his box of tricks.
The icing on the cake in regards to his performance came in the second half with a fine cross (supposedly with his weaker foot) was equally brilliantly volleyed home by Giroud to give the Gunners some breathing space.
This kid is supremely talented.
Reiss Nelson, how good is the young kid? Certainly deserves a go in the first team squad this season.
— Connor (@TikiTakaConnor) July 29, 2017
Can you bet on Reiss Nelson for a Ballon d'Or anywhere? Asking for a friend.
— Chris Dixon (@chrismd10) July 29, 2017
Reiss Nelson HAS to be given game-time in the Europa League & in the other cup competitions. Special talent. #afc
— Arsenaloholic (@ArsenalohoIic) July 29, 2017
Outstanding from Nelson. This performance certainly won't have done his first team chances any harm
— Jeorge Bird (@jeorgebird) July 29, 2017
Nelson looks like a talent. Can't wait too see how he progresses this season. Hopefully gets some time in the 1st team 👍🏻
— Dan Hill (@danhill111989) July 29, 2017
2. Arsenal have found the perfect left-wing back in Sead Kolasinac
Power, pace, productive in the final third. What a signing the Bosnian international could turn out to be for the Gunners. When the starting XI was announced prior to kick-off it was automatically assumed that the free transfer from Schalke would be on the left-hand side of a back three.
Wrong! Instead Arsenal supporters got the chance to see Kolasinac play as a left-wing back for only the second time in pre-season. His first outing didn’t last long as he came off early in the friendly against Bayern Munich earlier in the month with sickness.
But today he was very impressive going forward. Heavily involved in the first two goals – bullying a Benfica defender on the touchline before picking out Walcott with a lofted pass – and was at the heart of Alex Iwobi’s goal by combining well with Olivier Giroud.
3. Theo Walcott can still be an effective squad member
Just when it seems Walcott has no future at Arsenal, he pops up with a timely reminder that he can still be of use. Following Wenger’s decision to switch to a 3-4-2-1 system towards the end of last season, it resulted in a lack of playing time for the forward.
It was a little harsh in truth. Walcott scored 19 goals across all competitions in the 2016/17 campaign – only Alexis Sanchez netted more times – yet there was simply no room for him in this new formation as the Chilean and Mesut Ozil were ahead of him in the pecking order.
With talk of the Gunners trying to sign Thomas Lemar from Monaco, one could question what would happen to Walcott should the Frenchman arrive.
The answer could be a useful squad player. His two goals against Benfica highlighted his ability to be in the right place at the right time and that could very well be effective should Arsenal treat the Europa League seriously next season.
4. Defensive issues remain for Arsenal
As good as they were going forward, alarm bells at the back were ringing for the Gunners. Both of Benfica’s first-half goals could – probably should – have been avoided as a lapse in concentration on both occasions proved to be their downfall.
It’s been a common theme since the level of opposition in pre-season stepped up following easy victories over Sydney FC and Western Sydney FC.
In reality only a brilliant goalkeeping display from Petr Cech prevented another hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich, Chelsea exposed the defensive frailties on numerous occasions last weekend
Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Maitland-Niles were all at fault in either goal one way or the other today and that will be of major concern to Wenger as one of the latter pair might have to start next week’s Community Shield clash against the Blues.
5. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is Mr. Versatility
Of the two youngsters to start at the Emirates Stadium, Reiss Nelson clearly had the standout performance at right-wing back as his impressive pre-season form continued – much to the delight of the home supporters.
However, it was Maitland-Niles’ position which is arguably one of the main talking points.
Initially it appeared he would line-up on the opposite flank to Nelson, but it quickly became apparent that he’d been instructed by Wenger to play alongside Mertesacker and Holding on the left-hand side of a back three.
It’s the latest string to his bow. He played central midfield against Southampton and Sutton United in the FA Cup last season, but has been deployed at right-wing back, left-wing back and now centre-back in pre-season. The time will come for him to nail down one certain position, but for being versatile could work in his favour.