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Legia Warsaw 5 - 6 Arsenal: a (long!) match report and three questions

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Cabral 17'
Koscielny 33' (OG)
Jedrzejczyk 36, 75'
Iwansky 90'

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Chamakh 38'
Eboué 52, 60'
Gibbs 62'
Emmanuel-Thomas 81'
Nasri 84'

Arsenal overcame a determined, pressing Legia Warsaw side by a final score of 6 - 5 on a sunny afternoon in the Polish Capital in a match that leaves many questions unanswered ahead of the first Premier League match of the year at Anfield next Sunday.

Arsenal started the match looking tired and messy.  Legia pressed Arsenal's midfield trio of Nasri, Wilshere, and Frimpong (the latter two looking less effective today than they have been, perhaps a little fatigued, having played in all the matches so far), and consequently the Gunners had trouble maintaining possession.  When they lost the ball, the midfielders did a pretty poor job of tracking their marks defensively, and Legia threatened numerous times in the opening minutes.

The lack of midfield bite from Arsenal finally told in the 18th minute, when Legia won the ball in their own half, worked upfield, and Cabral was allowed to dribble straight at the heart of Arsenal's defense.  Neither Thomas Vermaelen nor Laurent Koscielny changed the shooting angle, Wilshere was too late getting back on defense, and Cabral gathered himself for a 25-yard scorcher into Lukasz Fabianski's top corner

Legia's next two goals came in quick succession, both off of corner kicks.  For their second, they crowded a cluster of players in front of Fabianski, who tried to shove through to punch the kick away only to trip over Vermaelen's leg.  The ball deflected off of Koscielny's leg and trickled over the line.  Two minutes later, Legia had another corner, which they took short, crossed from deep, and headed down into the middle of the box for their striker Jedrzejczyk to smash into the roof of the net.  Arsenal were 3-0 down after 36 minutes and had done really very little.

Cue the Nasri and Chamakh show (this fall's new smash hit?)  Arsenal began to keep possession in the midfield more as the half drew to a close and Legia's players relaxed a bit.  Nasri and Chamakh linked up, moving towards the Legia box; Chamakh knocked the ball outside on the left to the Frenchman, who promptly lifted a floating cross back towards the penalty spot.  Chamakh showed no mercy as he ran in front of the Legia keeper, bulled him over, and headed into the net.  Blunt, but effective, and it was 3 -1 at the half.

Arsenal made changes for the start of the second half, Eboue, Gibbs, Vela, and Szczesny coming on.  Eboué and Gibbs showed more willingness than had Walcott and Rosicky to close down Legia's midfielders, and it paid off in spades.  Eboué headed in at the far post in the 52nd minute off of a free kick, and eight minutes later he ran onto a deflection thirty yards out and dribbled into the box to chip the ball over the supine keeper.  It was game on, and two minutes later, Gibbs collected the ball 25 yards out and smashed the ball in with a clearly healed left foot.  It was 3 - 4 Arsenal, and things looked rosy.

Thirteen minutes later, however, Legia flicked a ball over the Arsenal defense, and nobody tracked Jedrzejczyk (everyone was trying to trap the Pols offside), who snuck in and hit the ball under the onrushing Szczesny.  The reverse happened six minutes later, with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scoring a low shot at the far post after running onto a flick.  At 4 - 5, Arsenal seemed content to play out the string, a bonus sixth coming courtesy of a low hard free kick that Nasri smashed past the end of the wall for the Legia keeper to not catch and not not push across his line.

But Legia were not finished.  In the 90th minute, they broke behind the Arsenal back line, squared towards the goal, and Henri Lansbury could not control the clearance, the ball bouncing off of his foot right in front of Iwansky, who slotted home for the match's final goal.  Time closed on a 5 - 6 wild one.

As preseason matches go, this one varied somewhere between a weird testimonial and a desperate, high-pressing affair.  It is difficult to draw conclusions about an obviously fatigued Arsenal from a match as disconnected as this one was, but taking this match and the preseason into view as a whole, questions remain ahead of the start of the year:

  1. The keeper question.  Not much more to say here that has not been said a million times this summer, other than that Szczesny made a really good double save early in the second half that should help his confidence even more.  However, the keeper question is tied up with another:
  2. Can Arsenal figure out how to defend better as a team of eleven?  The back four struggled at times today, but without help from the midfielders and wingers, a side with attacking full backs like Arsenal will always leave space for the opposition to run into.  The midfielders must press and regain possession more quickly if Arsenal is to cut down on the goals conceded this season, and the central pairing of Vermaelen and Koscielny will have to quickly acclimate to each others' styles.  At times today, Koscielny made the wrong decision about whether to push up or cover behind Verm.
  3. Who will start in the midfield trio at Anfield?  Diaby is not ready, and Song is in doubt at the moment as well, not having played at all yet this summer.  Nasri, on form, must start.  Eboué played very very well today.  Wilshere and Frimpong have both looked good this summer, although they struggled against the Polish pressure today.  One of them could play at Anfield, conceivably.  And then there's Cesc.

Overall, it was an inconclusive match, as most preseason contests are.  It may take a match or two at full speed before the Arsenal picture becomes more clear.  Arsenal supporters will keep their eyes on van Persie and Fàbregas over the coming days, but Chamakh seems as though he'll be the starter at Anfield at center forward.

Bring on the season.