The 2021/2022 premier league season kicked off with Arsenal sparring with their London neighbors, albeit one without any premier league action in the last 72 years.
One would expect that this would have been a very easy game for Arsenal, especially with the euphoria of the new season and the presence of Fans in the stadium for the first time since the pandemic but it went on to end in a way that has become the norm for the North London outfit.
Even the injection of new players in the persons of Albert Sambi Lokonga, Ben White, Nuno Tavares amongst others did nothing to swing the tide in favor of Arsenal.
The gunners were bullied upfront and behind in what turned out to be a sensational victory for the bees who deserved every bit of the three points, at least according to Mikel Arteta. Here are two things we learned as the bees buzzed their way to their first premier league victory in 72 years.
Arsenal need aggression in the defense.
The departure of David Luiz saw the club spend 50m in the acquisition of a replacement in Ben White but Friday night loss has shown that, while the English man might possess an impressive passing range and calmness on the ball, he does not offer the leadership and the aggression of David Luiz in that backline.
Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney pressed and dragged the entire Arsenal backline all night and had them playing second fiddle in almost all the duels.
Toney won more duels (12), more aerial duels (6), and more fouls (4) than any player on the pitch, he didn’t score a goal but he was a thorn in the flesh of the Arsenal defenders and was instrumental in every good that happened for his team.
Take nothing away from the forwards, they played well in their own rights but it is an indictment on the Arsenal defenders that they were rough handled by a pair of strikers that were tasting top-flight football for the first time.
This does not bode well for the gunners especially if you consider they will be facing one of the best strikers in the world in RomeluLukaku in their next game.
Defending was not the only problem for the Arsenal backline. Building out from the back was as much a problem as keeping balls away from the back.
For a team whose philosophy and style of play is heavily dependent on getting the ball out from the back as quickly as possible, Arsenal were very poor to this effect.
Pablo Mari was shaky on the ball and it didn’t help that Kieran Tierney was usually high up the pitch during the build-up.
There were limited options to pass to in the defensive third and the press of Toney and Mbeumo further cut out passing angles and so the Arsenal backline had to go long many times which turned out to be futile as Folarin Balogun could not hold his own against the experienced Pontus Jansson who won almost all the aerial duels with relative ease.
Arsenal need leaders upfront. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lacazette are untouchable.
For a Club that recorded the most success with an attacking core of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin Van Persie, watching Folarin Balogun and Martinelli lead the line on Friday must have left a sour taste in the mouths of the fans.
Make no mistakes, both strikers have are highly rated and have the potentials to go on to be world-class forwards. However, neither of them would have seen a starting berth possible as at a few hours to kick off.
Martinelli had just returned to the group a few days earlier after winning a gold medal at the Olympics and Folarin Balogun was supposed to be gradually eased into the team but late news that Club Captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his fellow striker, Alexandre Lacazette had been ruled out due to illness.
This meant that Balogun and Martinelli had to be thrown into the thick of the action. By their own standards, they had a very poor game and for Balogun especially, his inexperience was so clear to see.
Arsenal need to invest in experienced and proven forwards. There are talks that Aubameyang and Lacazette might both be sold but with the showing on Friday, gunners will hope such rumors will die a natural death.
Arsenal need leaders and the two strikers are the most experienced players in the team and it would be unwise to sell them without adequate replacements available, considering the fact that the current Arsenal side is a very young one.
Both strikers can teach players like Balogun and Martinelli a whole lot about goalscoring while contributing their own quota to the success on the pitch.
It was the first game of the season for the gunners and defeat is a part of the game but the chaotic display by the gunners will remind fans worldwide of the Arsenal they have come to know in recent years and that is something Mikel Arteta and his boys will have to work on.
The troubles of last season must be put to bed if Arsenal have any hope to challenge for silverware this season.