Arsenal lost (sort of) to Chelsea 2-1 at the Emirates today in the first friendly of the Mind Series charity round robin. I say sort of because Joe Willock had a ball that, to most people, looked to have hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down and in but wasn’t given as a goal. Clearly, there’s no goal-line technology in these particular friendlies, nor is there VAR. If there was, Arsenal might have had a penalty or three because they had a bunch of legitimate penalty shouts.
But that doesn’t really matter because the results of friendlies don’t matter in the slightest. Much more important is staying injury-free and playing well. Unfortunately, Arsenal did not avoid injuries today. Thomas Partey was forced off in the first half with an ankle problem that came from a late and dangerous challenge that had no business being made in a friendly.
And it wasn’t the only reckless challenge that ought not to have been made in a match with nothing at stake. Emile Smith Rowe was professionally fouled from behind on a counter by Matteo Kovacic. Kurt Zouma (I think) came completely through the back of Kieran Tierney’s legs. And Antonio Rudiger, as he usually does, was clattering people all over the pitch. In the interest of fairness, Granit Xhaka caught Davide Zappacosta with a bit of a nasty stepping-on-his-foot challenge that he probably should have pulled out of.
And not for nothing, Erin Cuthbert put in a completely unecessary challenge that injured Jordan Nobbs in the preceding women’s match.
There’s just no reason for challenges like that to be flying around in a friendly. Like, who cares if Thomas Partey gets away to pick out a through ball? Or if Emile Smith Rowe runs away on a counterattack? Or Kieran Tierney receives the ball, 40 yards out with his back to goal?
It’s a friendly. What happens on the pitch literally doesn’t matter. The result is meaningless. Engage your brain. Be a professional. Respect your opponents. Would you want guys putting in those kind of challenges on your best players? No? Then don’t throw them around yourself.
Obviously, Partey will be evaluated further, and the Arsenal medical staff will have their say, but just from the image, it doesn’t look good. Said Mikel Arteta after the match, “I just had a talk with the doc. He’ll have a scan tomorrow. At the moment, it’s not looking good.”
Found the specific mechanism of injury for Partey (see picture).— Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT (@3cbPerformance) August 1, 2021
This is typically indicative of a “high ankle sprain” aka syndesmotic tear. These typically come with a 4-6 week return timeline if a grade 1 injury. Recent example is Harry Maguire. pic.twitter.com/syae1CWCjk
As to the playing well part, there were some positives and some negatives that I’ll use the player ratings to go into a bit more detail. Generally, there were some nice attacking patterns, particularly from Partey to Aubameyang wide to somebody cutting it back, and Nicolas Pepe getting involved in the second half.
On the concerning side of things, the passing, especially around the back, was not crisp. There were far too many giveaways and misplaced passes that invited unnecessary pressure. Arsenal’s high line was caught out too frequently, which has been a trend throughout the preseason. And the defensive spacing in the midfield was not great — it was too easy for Chelsea attackers to find pockets of space between players.
Bernd Leno - 5
Would be lower but he made a handful of nice saves of the “you’d like your keeper to make ‘em but it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to save that” variety. His passing wasn’t as sharp as you’d like. And I have no idea what he was doing on that break where Ziyech got in behind but somehow didn’t score.
Calum Chambers - 4
Don’t really remember him doing much of anything noteworthy. Feels like he (along with Rob Holding) got caught way too high up the pitch leading to breaks the other way on several occasions.
Rob Holding - 3
Poor game from Holding today. Charged way too high up the pitch only to miss challenges and leave Arsenal exposed at the back. To be fair, coming that high may be what the coaches want him to do, minus, you know, not getting the ball or giving the foul. But that’s Rob Holding (and a lot of defenders, really) — most games will be fine, every now and then, you’ll get a stinker.
Pablo Mari - 7
Defended the break really well, especially given he was often facing multiple attackers with little or no defensive support. Continues to be a solid, unspectacular option.
Kieran Tierney - 7
Did usual Kieran Tierney things getting up and down the wing and involved in the attack. Glad he seemed no worse the wear from having someone clatter through the back of his legs, because he stayed down to get treatment and had my heart in my throat for a second.
Mohamed Elneny - 5
Sure. Whatever. He played. He’s boring.
Thomas Partey - 9
Looked absolutely fantastic (as he has for most of the preseason) before getting hurt. Was gliding through the midfield, around defenders, and picking passes to start moves and create chances. Hope he doesn’t miss too much time.
Emile Smith Rowe - 7
Wasn’t as involved as he has been in the other preseason matches, but did well when he got on the ball. Hit the post with a shot from distance that looked sure to go in.
Nicolas Pepe -7
Also had a quieter match than he’s been having, but was more involved in the second half. He’ll be fine. And Arsenal will need him to be great this season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - 6
What is it we always say about Aubameyang — as long as he’s getting chances, we shouldn’t be worried. But I’m starting to get a little bit worried about his finishing. He seems to be in a bit of slump. He didn’t convert two good chances — you’d like to see him tuck one of those away. Still has his blinding pace, though.
Alexandre Lacazette - 5
Similar to Elneny. He played. Didn’t do much good or bad. Was boring.
Granit Xhaka - 6
Wasn’t expecting him to play, and he may not have but for the Partey injury. Scored a goal. Picked a few passes. Made some tackles. Put in a “c’mon man, it’s a friendly” challenge on Zappacosta. After the match, Mikel Arteta declared that he’d be staying at the club this season.
Hector Bellerin - 3
If we were judging just on appearance, he’d get a 10. Absolutely love the Uncle Rico, straight out of the 1970’s look. Unfortunately, his play matters too, and it wasn’t good. He did play a fantastic through ball that led to a goal. Critically, however, the ball was to Tammy Abraham who is notably not an Arsenal player.
Ben White - 7
Looked good in his Arsenal debut. Didn’t see much of his on-ball prowess, but he made a few key blocks and his defensive positioning seemed solid.
Nuno Tavares - 5
He played. Don’t remember him doing much other than picking up a yellow card.
Albert Sambi Lokonga - 7
Played well, and with Partey likely to miss time, we’ll be seeing much more of him. Really like that his first thought is to progress the ball, either passing or dribbling.
Eddie Nketiah - 6
Looked lively today and was more involved without the ball / outside the box than he usually is.
Sead Kolasinac - 3
Had a comically poor attempt at a volley back to Bernd Leno that nearly led to a Chelsea break that ended up with him on the ground, grabbing his foot, feigning injury to try to win a foul. Also tried a backheel in the Chelsea box.