On a hot night in Catalunya, Barcelona came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1.
The result saw the Catalans lift the Joan Gamper trophy, their annual pre-season friendly, after an interesting bout against Arsenal. What did we learn?
1. Luis Suárez will not go gentle
Luis Suárez is old. Luis Suárez is slow. Luis Suárez is overweight. Luis Suárez as a first-touch heavier than Jupiter. These things are all true, and yet somehow Luis Suárez just keeps on making it happen. Barcelona made a quasi-attempt to replace him this summer by bringing in Antoine Griezmann, a striker who probably will replace Suárez in the medium-term but in the short-term he’s now played in every pre-season game of the Blaugrana without scoring whilst the Uruguayan blundered his way through 30 minutes and volleyed home the winner.
Suárez’s knack for making things happen is ridiculous. Almost all of last season consistent of him playing poorly but then scoring anyway. He’s become a microcosm of Valverde’s Barça, really, looking disjointed but ultimately finding a way through. Griezmann actually looked more fluid against Arsenal and had his team-mates furnished him with better passes he could have made something happen. Meanwhile Suárez was first-touching the ball five yards away from him and diving to try to win a penalty, yet when the game was on the line he showed up with a great run and superb volley to pump Sergi Roberto’s long ball into the net and win Barcelona the Gamper Trophy.
Luis Suárez will not go gentle into that good night, he will not vanish without a fight!
2. Awesome Aubameyang
A good striker can change the fortunes of a match, a great one can shape entire seasons. Even with Alexandre Lacazette out injured, Arsenal are able to call on a truly great striker. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had two goals so far in pre-season, but games against Barcelona are always special for Arsenal given the history between the two clubs – and the Gabon international will have wanted to make a statement.
And what a statement he made! Arsenal spent most of the game defending, obviously, but they showed no fear about breaking on their illustrious hosts and causing danger that was all possible through Aubameyang’s pace and movement. This came to a head near the end of the half when Mesut Ozil played a lovely pass across the pitch to leave Aubameyang running onto the ball.
Auba could have just hit it first-time, no one would have begrudged him. Or he could have slowed it and tried to beat the onrushing Jordi Alba for pace. But no, he turned to control it with his left and then with his right he seamlessly span away from Alba. From here many expected him to look up and cross for Reiss Nelson, but Aubameyang instead dropped the hammer and blasted a brilliant shot high into the net, leaving Neto helpless in goal and giving Arsenal a surprise lead.
He changed the fortune of the match and if he stays fit and in the kind of form with which he has started pre-season, has the potential to change the course of the season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a truly great striker.
3. Arsenal’s wing wonderkids
With Nicolas Pepe signed for a colossal £72m, the Arsenal wingers had been put on notice. They were now playing for their places as the amazing Ivorian was surely coming to lock down one of the wing spots. So you’d think that the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been flying around the pitch trying to impress but no, Reiss Nelson and Bakayo Saka instead stood out.
Nelson is back at the Emirates after a season on-loan at Hoffenheim and tonight he played like a man determined to make an impression. Not only was he bright in attack but he was relentless in his defensive application and shut down two or three really promising Barcelona attacks simply through his willingness to get back and cover the forward surges of Nelson Semedo. Nelson showed he can do more than ritually humiliate people with supreme skills and may have earned a place in Unai Emery’s plans as a result.
Saka came on in the second half and was, in many ways, even more impressive. Despite being just 17-years-old, Saka took to the enormous Camp Nou stage like he was born to play there. He surged up that left-wing every time he touched the ball and put in two very dangerous deliveries. For a young player too look so confident in his abilities speaks wonders about his mental toughness. This kid could be for real.
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4. The Grandmaster
Watching Barcelona try to play football without Sergio Busquets is really quite something. Imagine trying to watch someone dance with no sense of rhythm and you’d get an idea of the baffling incoherence that was on display. Barcelona’s players are obviously talented, there can be no doubt about that, but without Busquets to run the show in midfield things can look disjointed.
Leo Messi is key to their play as well, but in a more obvious way given how advanced his role is and how many goals he scores and creates. Everyone can tell that he’s essential, people genuinely think Busquets can be replaced and it’ll be no bother. Well the job fell to Ivan Rakitic in the first half and Barcelona looked like the aforementioned rhythmless person.
Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig combined to do a approximation of the kind of control that Busquets offers, but without his second-nature understanding of the system and authority as a veteran, they couldn’t extend that to the whole side. Rakitic should have taken that role but didn’t, but as soon as Busquets came on, Barcelona were transformed. The second half was delightful and much more classically Barça, all thanks to Sergio Busquets running the show from the middle of the park. He is The Grandmaster.
5. Arsenal’s areas of need
Tense games always have a way of making the needs of a team abundantly clear. The way things break down, the players who perhaps are’t up to the task always seem to make that clear. Tonight for Arsenal, the entire defence was clearly begging to be replaced.
Sure, in attack they looked bright and will only get brighter with the inclusion of Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette. The midfield fought hard and played some impressive passes even if they couldn’t get a handle on Sergio Busquets.
Arsenal's attack: 🔥
Arsenal's defence: 😱 https://t.co/9ryL14f5vV
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 4, 2019
But the defence? Sure, they held Barcelona for a long, long while and in the end only a defensive mistake broke them open – but look at the mistake. A catastrophic lack of communication between Bernd Leno and Ainsley Maitland-Niles saw the Englishman pass the ball back to a goalkeeper who wasn’t there, leading to an own goal.
And besides that, Arsenal’s defenders repeatedly made problems for themselves with poor passes under the most minimal of Barcelona pressure that chaos was a near-constant sensation even as Barcelona themselves didn’t play as well as they are able to. And then for Luis Suárez’s winner the defence just plain forgot to mark the Uruguayan, affording him an absurd amount of space to volley home.
Calum Chambers played well, but besides him it was far from impressive against a pedestrian Blaugrana. And to compound things, it doesn’t sound like the Gunners are going to address the centre of their defence before the window ends. That’s a big, big problem.