Greetings from Charlotte. Much like our own David Skinner, who got to watch the Gunners take on Bayern Munich three days ago in LA, I was in attendance to watch the Eddie Nketiah show at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte. It was hot, the Gunners attack was even hotter, and it was a ton of fun in general.
While the match itself was the main draw, the pre-match festivities were excellent. Charlotte put a ton of effort into making the International Champions Cup more than just a match. Friday and Saturday leading up the match, House of Soccer hosted two-days worth of soccer-centric activities for fans young and old, which made the unbelievable heat a little more bearable.
Charlotte used the match as an opportunity to make a big push to brand Charlotte as a soccer-city, especially as they are hoping to bring a MLS franchise to the Queen City. There were bands, games, and plenty for fans to take part in as the streets were flooded in fans clad in Arsenal red. There was even the solid gold Invincibles trophy on display (behind glass, of course) for fans to take pictures with.
The absolute highlight of the weekend’s festivities were without a doubt the special guests. On Friday night, the Romford Pele himself Ray Parlour played in a friendly all-star match before taking part in a meet-and-greet on Saturday at Ri Ra, a great bar that is home to Charlotte’s Queen City Gooners (who are an awesome bunch, by the way). On Saturday, the greatest soccer player in the world, Megan Rapinoe, made an appearance, as she hosted a clinic after answering some questions on stage.
Directly before the march to the match, though, the trio of Hector Bellerin, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Rob Holding took the stage in front of a massive crowd of Arsenal fans, including my wife, who was more excited to see Hector in particular than I was to see, well, anyone. They fielded questions and got the crowd hyped up before the match. It was the perfect final touch on a weekend full of great pre-match activities in Charlotte.
A pre-match guest appearance by these lads? Way to knock it out of the park, House of Soccer. pic.twitter.com/0ECNff9i6q— The Short Fuse (@TheShortFuse) July 21, 2019
On to the match!
Since it was largely a chance to iron out the wrinkles, I’ll hit you with the bullet points:
- Did I mention before that it was hot? Well, it was. Unbearably so. With nary a cloud in the sky, the sun was still brutal by the time the match kicked off at 6pm EST. The match was so hot that it featured at least two stoppages per half for water breaks.
- The three day turn-around from last match meant there was almost certainly going to be a large dose of the kids. Once again, they showed a lot of promise, but also showed their lack of experience at times with some shaky play.
- This might come as a shock, but boy, the defense is bad. Really bad. The starting back three of Nacho Monreal, Shkodran Mustafi, and Callum Chambers were woeful as Fiorentina outshot the Gunners 18-12 and routinely got in behind. They should have probably had a goal or two, but their shots were either off the mark or saved by some good goal keeping.
- Credit to Fiorentina for coming out smartly against Arsenal. They were patient and sat back as Arsenal played out of the back fruitlessly for much of the first ten minutes before launching counter attacks. Better teams will make Arsenal pay for starting so slowly.
- Eddie Nketiah was the Man of the Match, and deservedly so. He has been making a real statement for meaningful minutes after being on the fringes last season. Two goals today and three goals in two games is impressive no matter who it is.
- Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s lone signing so far, unfortunately missed an absolute sitter after boat-racing the Fiorentina back line late in the match. While it would have been great to see him bury it, he looked quick and explosive in his minor cameo.
- When the veterans were on, the attack looked great. Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a great showing and Alexandre Lacazette provided two assists in the second half to help seal the match. The youth players benefitted greatly from their presence and experience.
- Mesut Ozil once again looked sharp. After coming on in in the 79th to a massive ovation, he pulled the strings and showed off the skills that made him one of the world’s best players in recent years. If he can continue with this form, the Gunners’ attack should benefit greatly. If that means a season of the blonde Ozil, so be it.
The win today makes it three wins in three pre-season matches so far for the Gunners, who are currently leading the standings in the all-important International Champions Cup. With only a final ICC match against Real Madrid on Tuesday, the Gunners have a chance to bring home some silverware before the season even starts.
Can they get the job done? Probably! Will it matter? Probably not! Will we over analyze it? You better believe it.