Arsenal 2-2 Boca Juniors

Gunners suffer from friendly fire

July 30, 2011
By James Dall, Emirates Stadium
(Archive)

This was only a friendly match, despite being called the Emirates 'Cup', and in his post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger said: "I don't give too much importance to the result. It is more important to find a connective rhythm." But when Arsenal went two goals up and threw away the advantage to draw 2-2 against Boca Juniors, having been in control for a huge chunk of the 90 minutes, there was still a crushing feeling of déjà vu for all Gunners fans.

Arsene Wenger speaks to ESPN

Wenger's refusal to dwell on his side's defensive lapses after the game gave way to praise of Arsenal's impressive new-boy, Gervinho and the inevitable conjecture over the futures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. "Nothing has moved since Friday," said Wenger - which is no surprise, as it has only been 24 hours.

Common belief is the former will, eventually, leave and the latter will, for another year, remain. Despite his desire to join Barcelona, an injured Fabregas was in attendance. "No money would get Cesc out of here, if he wants to stay," were the telling final five words from a bullish Wenger.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, Nasri did little to dispel his doubters. He played the entirety of the match, even handed the captain's armband in the second half, however, this was not one of his better outings, with little coming off for the Manchester City target, who has less than 12 months to run on his current contract. It would be bold, though, to suggest he looked uncommitted, perhaps just not entirely focused.

But when one wonders what Arsenal might lose, it is human nature to forget what one already has. You're scrabbling around looking for your keys, but at least you have your wallet, safely tucked away in your back pocket.

The wallet, in this case, is Jack Wilshere. On the evidence of his pre-season performances thus far, the contentious decision to keep him out of this summer's European Under-21 Championships looks a wise one, certainly for the player, and, more importantly, for his club. He looked fresh, and his feet skipped lightly off the turf. Wilshere was a thorn in Boca's side for the 45 minutes he played, drawing several fouls; they simply couldn't get to grips with his speed of thought. Arsenal's opener came from a Gervinho assist to a Robin van Persie finish, but it was Wilshere who ignited the attack.

With Wilshere supreme in the centre, eyes were otherwise mostly on the only major summer signing for the Gunners thus far, Gervinho - the home fans keen to gauge his quality for the first time up close. The Ivory Coast international is a direct sort of player, happy to take on defences and that could prove a valuable weapon in the season to come, as it can be a frustrating process watching Arsenal pass sideways against a side set up to suffocate them.

Gervinho demonstrated an end product for the opener, and skinned an opponent on more than one occasion. Reflecting on his performance, Wenger said: "Gervinho is a good addition to our squad. Gives options on both sides and through middle. He can integrate well."

Defensively, there has been much pining for a brute of a centre-half. There's a belief Arsenal are crying out for a giant of a stopper, hence the links with Blackburn's Christopher Samba and Bremen's Per Mertesacker. But, and this might be tempting fate, this match served to remind that the pair would be a very un-Wenger-like buy. The French coach likes his back four to play the ball out from the back and Laurent Koscielny, signed from Lorient last summer for nearly £10 million, is evidence of that principle.

Koscielny, who had a mixed debut season in England, was excellent in his distribution versus Boca before his exit. (Hence, talk of a swoop for Everton's Phil Jagielka, more technically adept than Samba, sounding more plausible).

If Arsenal seek to replicate the Barcelona style, they do not need a centre-back unable to turn over the ball swiftly enough for them to manipulate possession and, ultimately, the opposition. It just wouldn't work. This run-out was also evidence of the need for the Gunners to obtain a defender with some pace. They continue to play an awfully high line, and that was exposed a handful of times by their opponents. Indeed, in the second half, the home side did little to convince that defensive concentration has improved as Sebastien Squillaci, whose reputation continues to plummet, and then Johan Djourou saw rudimentary errors punished.

Johan Djourou
GettyImagesJohan Djourou was at fault for the comeback

The Gunners conceded a higher proportion of goals from set-pieces (53.5%) last season than any other team in the Premier League. And on Friday, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny indicated a unified determination to right those wrongs. He said: "You might see a little change this weekend in our tactics [with set pieces]."

In Arsenal's defence, which lined up zonally, it was less set-piece mishaps and more a matter of fading that led to Arsenal's throwing away of the two-goal lead. Wenger may claim that fatigue played its part but, while this was indeed a physical exercise at this stage of the season, some Arsenal fans have run this same 90-minute path all too often.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Emmanuel Frimpong - The 19-year-old is a physical unit. He was tough in the tackle, making many of those over the course of the 90 minutes. He's a natural replacement for Alex Song, but beyond that it could be argued Arsenal are sparse in that holding area, following the departure of Denilson and Abou Diaby's injury. Frimpong, though, will want to make a significant impact this campaign, after missing the entirety of last season following a serious knee injury.

ARSENAL VERDICT: Hard to read too much into the result itself. Nasri's underwhelming performance will likely grab the headlines, despite Wenger's best efforts to down play the matter of his future. "I play the players who are available, and Nasri is available. So I play him," he said. Absentees from the game included Thomas Vermaelen, Wojciech Szczesny and Tomas Rosicky, but they will be involved on Sunday versus New York Red Bulls.

BOCA JUNIORS VERDICT: They were hardly in the game until Arsenal let them back into it. Juan Roman Riquelme was the household name on show, and he duly caught the eye with some fancy flicks. Their participation was littered with much fouling, in particular the first half. Such was eagerness of the tackles, it was surprising that Arsenal chose to arrange a game so close to the proper season against Boca.