Arsenal take on Chelsea in Orlando this evening in the penultimate match of the summer and final stop in the Gunners’ U.S. tour. Mikel Arteta’s squad have won all their preseason matches thus far, but the Blues should prove a stiffer test. Chelsea will likely be particularly motivated (or as motivated as a side can be for a preseason match) given their loss to Charlotte FC on penalties a few days ago.
I don’t love that Arsenal are playing Chelsea. Playing rivals in preseason rarely ends well. When the clubs played last summer a week before opening day, Ruben Loftus-Cheek put in a ridiculously late, dangerous tackle on Thomas Partey that injured his ankle and kept him out for the first month of the campaign. It was a challenge that had absolutely no place in a friendly (nor in a competitive match, really). Maybe the Gunners beat Brentford in the opener with Partey on the pitch. They probably get at least a draw. Perhaps Partey is enough to steal a point against Chelsea, too.
There’s always a risk of injury every time you play a match, preseason friendly or cup final, but playing teams from your league, especially clubs from across town, isn’t a good idea. I’m not suggesting there’s an intentional, coordinated effort to hurt opposing players, but does a guy trying to earn playing time have extra incentive to leave a bit extra on an opponent? Definitely. Do some players see it as an opportunity to “send a message” to a competitor? Absolutely.
Other than crossing my fingers and hoping that everybody makes it through the match healthy, I’ll be watching for growth in the understanding and chemistry between Arsenal’s attackers. Gabriel Jesus, Martin Ødegaard, and Bukayo Saka showed impressive fluidity and movement against Orlando City SC, but there were clearly times where they weren’t on the same page. That’ll come with time and reps. I’m hoping to see that progress against Chelsea.
I’m starting to get concerned about Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Emile Smith Rowe’s availability to start the season. The longer they go without playing, the more convinced I become we will not see them against Crystal Palace. I suspect Ben White will play right back with the first team because at this point, there is a decent chance he starts there on Matchday 1. And either way, he’s probably the backup RB this season.
In better news, Mikel Arteta said yesterday that we may see Alex Zinchenko at some point depending on how he trained yesterday. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he got at least a few minutes at left back with the first-teamers too, for much the same reasons as Ben White is likely to play on the other side of the defense. There’s an outside shot that Fabio Vieira will make his first appearance as well. With preseason drawing to a close, who Mikel Arteta trots out with his clear first choice guys will be telling.
Arsenal - Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Partey, Xhaka, Saka Ødegaard, Martinelli, Jesus
Zinchenko starts!— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 23, 2022
In the red corner tonight... pic.twitter.com/g1sO9wNZ5D
Chelsea - Mendy, James, Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Emerson, Gallagher, Jorginho, Mount, Sterling, Havertz, Werner
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Chelsea
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
WHEN: Saturday, July 23rd 5 pm PT | 8 pm ET | 1 am BST
US TV: Streaming on ESPN+
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