Feature

Analysis: Five things we learned during pre-season

Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

With our pre-season schedule now complete, Edward Stratmann gives us a comprehensive tactical review of our standout performers ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.

Guendouzi's passing

Matteo Guendouzi couldn't have dreamt of a better start to life at his new club. Although it's only pre-season and the sample size is small, the new signing has settled in seamlessly and was arguably been Arsenal's standout performer in their friendlies.

Displaying his capacity to connect, construct and animate the Gunners' possession phases, his passing has shone especially brightly. Having completed 180 of 191 attempted passes in the games against Boreham Wood, Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, his excellent range of passing, knowledge of when to speed up the tempo and pass selection has been a real asset in Arsenal’s build-up play.

Also keen to play progressive, vertical deliveries from his deep-lying post, Guendouzi has also exercised sound judgement when to recirculate possession if no viable options arise. Successful at bypassing the opposition's midfield line, switching the angle of attacks, with aerial and ground passes, and remaining calm while under pressure in confined spaces, the fact he's accurately hit 41 of his 46 intended passes into the final third demonstrates his ability to execute with conviction.

Guendouzi fizzes a pass to find Henrikh Mkhitaryan between lines

Guendouzi fizzes a pass to find Henrikh Mkhitaryan between lines

Guendouzi’s lofted pass to find Aubameyang 

Guendouzi’s lofted pass to find Aubameyang 

Looking ahead, the Frenchman will now be hoping to translate his strong form into the Premier League season.

Smith Rowe's dribbling

Aside from his incredible goal against Atletico Madrid and tidy assist in the win over Paris Saint-Germain, Emile Smith Rowe's incisive dribbling ability also caught the eye during his positive pre-season.

Through his combination of power and finesse, he's illustrated how effective he can be. Possessing sharp ball control, a neat first touch, plus a nice array of skills, feints and shimmies, Smith Rowe has used his aptitude in this regard to unbalance his markers while also creating space for his team-mates by regularly drawing multiple trackers.

The agile 18-year-old's razor-sharp turning circle, body shape prior to receiving and wicked changes of pace and direction have been a highlight too, with these elements pivotal towards him being able to score against Atletico, in a match where he notably completed all five of his attempted dribbles.

Smith Rowe receives the ball with his body opened up perfectly

Smith Rowe receives the ball with his body opened up perfectly

Smith Rowe then skilfully dribbles past two men to score

Smith Rowe then skilfully dribbles past two men to score

The below images come from another passage from the Atletico game where he instinctively beats two opponents in a matter of seconds.

Smith Rowe beats his first man sharply

Smith Rowe beats his first man sharply

Smith Rowe then changes direction to get past the second

Smith Rowe then changes direction to get past the second

Having just signed a new deal with the club he joined at the age of nine, Smith Rowe's efforts during the warm-up games will have given him confidence that he can make an impact under Unai Emery this season.

Ozil's movement

He may have only made three appearances due to his World Cup commitments, but Mesut Ozil has still hit the ground running with impressive outings against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Lazio - and his intelligent movement has been crucial in his productive start under the new head coach.

Very adept at scanning his surroundings, the playmaker's ability to identify openings and exploit them has served himself and his colleagues well. To start with, as seen in the graphic below, he's done a brilliant job of occupying the opposition fullback to make room for his own fullback, Hector Bellerin on this occasion, to burst upfield.

Ozil pins the fullback so Bellerin can receive in space

Ozil pins the fullback so Bellerin can receive in space

In addition, his aptitude at finding space between the lines of the opposition midfield and defence, plus knowing to when drop deep into midfield, has given his team-mates good support and has also connected attacks incisively.

Ozil makes a nice run into the channel vacated by Alonso, who had stepped up to pressure Bellerin

Ozil makes a nice run into the channel vacated by Alonso, who had stepped up to pressure Bellerin

Ozil pulls out wide in rotation with Sead Kolasinac

Ozil pulls out wide in rotation with Sead Kolasinac


Lacazette's finishing

Bagging four goals in five games, Alexandre Lacazette's exuded poise and precision as the dynamic striker undoubtedly caught the eye in pre-season.

Exhibiting his accomplished finishing and anticipation skills, he's shown how deadly he can be around the opposition’s goal. Being so quick to react and to alter his body position, this saw him assuredly score against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.

Lacazette’s instinctive reactions were crucial for his goal against Chelsea

Lacazette’s instinctive reactions were crucial for his goal against Chelsea

Lacazette’s awareness allowed him to produce this lofted finish against Paris Saint-Germain

Lacazette’s awareness allowed him to produce this lofted finish against Paris Saint-Germain

Lacazette knew exactly where he was placing his shot

Lacazette knew exactly where he was placing his shot

Meanwhile, his effortless strike in the win over Boreham Wood accentuated his value in a pre-season where he hit nearly three shots on target per game and dovetailed nicely with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Lacazette’s deadly finish against Boreham Wood

Lacazette’s deadly finish against Boreham Wood

Confident, clinical and desperate to prove himself, the former Lyon hitman's looking primed to kick on in his second season with the Gunners. 

Aubameyang's pace in behind

After his fast start to life at Arsenal since joining in January, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strong pre-season suggests he's got every chance of carrying this form into the new campaign.

Starting with his lethal runs in behind, which are so hard to stop and so useful for stretching out opposing backlines, Aubameyang has left many defenders trailing in his wake. By cleverly recognising when a team-mate is in position to see his runs, his subtle decoy movements that persistently fool his tracker have been key for him in gaining a vital head start.

Aubameyang’s superbly-timed run in behind the Paris Saint-Germain back line

Aubameyang’s superbly-timed run in behind the Paris Saint-Germain back line

He tends to sit on the shoulder of the last man and also implements clever out-to-in diagonal runs, which allow him to receive the ball in central areas.

Aubameyang’s excellent diagonal run

Aubameyang’s excellent diagonal run

Aubameyang bursts in behind with perfect timing

Aubameyang bursts in behind with perfect timing

With the Premier League season kicking off this weekend against Manchester City, it'll certainly be intriguing to see how these five players, and the rest of the squad, fare this campaign.