Prior to Saturday’s clash with Rangers, Gooners probably assumed (and prayed) it couldn’t get any worse after the embarrassing pre-season defeat to Hibernian – and thankfully, it didn’t.
Arsenal took on the Scottish champions at Ibrox, and although they fell behind after only 14 minutes, they did end up coming away with a 2-2 draw. Still not ideal, but it is progress, one way or another.
Goals from new signing Nuno Tavares and forward Eddie Nketiah brought the Gunners level on two separate occasions, and coach Mikel Arteta will feel his players could have won the game, with Hector Bellerin going close at the end.
It’s another 90 minutes in the players’ legs, as they build up their match fitness ahead of the fast-approaching Premier League campaign. So, even if we shouldn’t read too deeply into pre-season friendlies, what did we learn from Arsenal’s tie in Scotland?
We’ll start with a negative, because there was one big, fat negative to draw from this game: Arsenal still can’t defend set-pieces. The Gunners were undone by Hibernian from a corner in their 2-1 defeat, and they suffered the same fate against Rangers – twice.
The two goals arrived in symmetrical fashion, the first being flicked home from an inswinging corner from the left, and the second meeting the same ending from the right.
Both Leon Balogun and Cedric Itten were awarded free, uncontested headers inside the six-yard box, which frankly, you shouldn’t allow to happen even once. Let’s hope Premier League clubs haven’t spotted this weakness.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. One bright spark was the performance of new signing Nuno Tavares, who offered bags of energy on that left flank.
The defender even capped off his first Arsenal start with a goal, anticipating a lapse from the Rangers right-back, out-muscling his man and stepping inside before curling clinically into the far corner.
As far as first impressions go, this was certainly a good one from Tavares. More of the same, please.
Aston Villa have been testing Arsenal’s resistance with some big bids for Emile Smith Rowe, and the Gunners are relying on the attacking midfielder sticking to his roots.
Arteta has made it clear in this pre-season that the 20-year-old is a major part of his plans, and he is repaying the Spaniard with some exhilarating performances.
Smith Rowe was electric against Rangers, showing bags of confidence, courage to beat his marker, quick feet and a turn of pace to blitz away from his man. The kid is ready to take the Premier League by storm next year.
While Smith Rowe is stepping up to the plate, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not. The Arsenal forward should have bagged a hat-trick in the first half, but he spurned every chance that fell his way.
The 32-year-old was far too casual when tapping in the rebound from a dazzling Smith Rowe run and strike, allowing a desperate Rangers defender to fly back and block his goal-bound effort.
Aubameyang’s form last season was cause for concern, and if pre-season is anything to go by, he is yet to address those issues.
While one striker flops, another flourishes. Eddie Nketiah needs to make a name for himself this season, or he could find his Arsenal career coming to a premature end.
The 22-year-old showed Aubameyang how it’s done on Saturday, demonstrating a will and desire to prove his worth to Arteta by nabbing the late equaliser.
The goal was excellently worked, winning the ball back in the area, cutting inside, beating his man and firing sneakily inside the near post. That’s the way to do it, Eddie!