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Brand New Season But Same Old Arsenal

While Arsenal’s Emirates Cup game against AC Milan did not tell us too much we didn’t already know there are a couple of lessons to be learned from the 1-1 draw.

Wenger appears to have abandoned the 4-3-3 formation which, inspired by the success Barcelona enjoyed with a similar system, he adopted last season. Against AC Milan his side lined up in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation with new signing Marouane Chamakh leading the line alongside Andrei Arshavin. The Russian playmaker was the slightly more withdrawn of the two forwards, sitting a little deeper than Chamakh and looking to provide the link between defence and attack.

Arshavin was in too advanced a role to be considered a midfielder meaning that Arsenal effectively played with only two central midfielders for the first time in over a year. Emmanual Frimpong anchored the midfield with Tomas Rosicky just in front of him while Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere occupied the wide roles.

Such is the speed with which Arsenal break that only Frimpong’s role at the base of the midfield is really set in stone. The other three midfielders are allowed to get forward at every available opportunity with Frimpong sitting further back in a role which is likely to be occupied by Alex Song once the season starts.

Injuries forced Wenger to use Arshavin as an auxiliary striker all too often last season. With the wingers playing in a slightly more withdrawn role this time round he might feel that Arshavin could be more gainfully employed as one of the two attackers.

Rosicky, Wilshere and Nasri can all play anywhere across the midfield but today Rosicky was preferred in the central position which will eventually be occupied by Cesc Fabregas. Historically Wenger has often introduced central players to the team in wide roles as part of the induction process. Wilshere started out wide but moved inside at the start of the second half and Wenger may well see the Englishman as the long term successor to Barcelona bound midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the central role.

Wenger did not spring too many defensive surprises. Another arrival at centre back might well be in the pipeline but Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny will definitely start the season as the first choice pairing. Emmanuel Eboue has often been found playing on the wing or even occasionally in central midfield in recent seasons but was back where most feel that he belongs at right back. The highly regarded Kieran Gibbs started the game at left back while the slightly less popular Lucas Fabianski was in goal.

It was business as usual for Arsenal who put together a display of fluid attacking football before conceding a highly unnecessary equalizer from a harmless looking free kick. The problem for Wenger’s side in recent seasons has been precisely this; they may be able to play finer football than arguably any other team in the country but they simply do not outscore their opponents as effectively or consistently as either Chelsea or Manchester United. For all of the positives to be drawn from this display, and there were plenty, the manner in which AC Milan were needlessly allowed back in the game will be serious cause for concern at the Emirates.

First and foremost amongst the positives were the performances of pre season signings Chamakh and Koscielny. The latter looked solid alongside Vermealen at the heart of the defence, while the former showed some touches of real class and rounded off an impressive display with a well taken goal.

Arshavin put in the type of performance which he has always been capable of but has been unable to deliver with sufficient frequency in Arsenal colours. It was his dynamic run which made the goal as he effortlessly brushed aside legendary midfield enforcer Gennaro Gattuso and ran straight at the AC Milan defence before slotting his strike partner through on goal.

Nasri’s exclusion from the French world cup squad came as a major surprise to those who regularly watched the tricky midfielder last season and he provided a serious threat cutting inside from the right flank.

Wilshere was a little more quiet on the left but combined with Gibbs to good effect. The left back showed a refreshing willingness to make overlapping runs and will be looking to make a real impression on the first team this season. Emmanuel Frimpong did not impress to quite the same extent, although it is difficult to catch the eye playing in a midfield role which is primarily defensive.

Fabianski looked fairly competent but old doubts will have resurfaced when he attempted an audacious and highly risky trick turn under pressure in his own area before scuffing an unconvincing clearance.

With the departure of Eduardo and the potential reversion to the use of two central strikers Carlos Vela will be hoping for a choice to shine this season.

He gave a tantalizing glimpse of his undeniable ability in this game when he received the ball wide on the left and cut inside, getting the better of three AC Milan defenders before curling a shot narrowly wide. Theo Walcott also looked lively after coming on although he looked far more comfortable on the wing then when asked to operate as one of the two strikers.

Injury has severely restricted Johan Djorou’s involvement in recent seasons but it was interesting that when Wenger did bring on the tall centre back it was in a defensive midfield role.

There were a number of first choice players missing from the side and the Arsenal line up in the season opener against Liverpool will be substantially different from the team which took to the field against AC Milan. The formation is likely to remain the same though and it will be interesting to see what effect this will have on the performances.

Offensively Arsenal are up there with the best, it is defensive frailties that have hindered the club’s recent quest for silverware. Arsenal fans accustomed to seeing their side dominate matches only to allow the opposition back into the game with a late defensive lapse will not have been encouraged by this particular performance. It may be a brand new season but on today’s evidence it is the same old Arsenal.

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