Arsenal returned to action and stepped up their build-up ahead of the Premier League’s return with a friendly against Charlton on Saturday.
The Gunners head to Manchester City when the top flight returns in 10 days time as they bid to make a Champions League push.
And Mikel Arteta’s men served notice of their intentions with a 6-0 thumping of the Championship side at the Emirates.
Played behind-closed-doors, and with players asked to arrive in full kit, Arsenal made light work of Lee Bowyer’s struggling side.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were both on target in the first period, with a strong side taking a 2-0 lead into the break.
Then Arteta’s likely lads, a largely second choice side mostly featuring players fighting to force their way into the Spaniard’s plans, took over, scoring four times.
Eddie Nketiah, the England Under-21 striker, helped himself to three of them, with midfielder Joe Willock also on target.
Here are five things we spotted from the action…
- Arteta’s formation
The Spaniard looks increasingly set on a 4-2-3-1 formation for the remainder of the campaign – when Mesut Ozil is involved.
Ozil started as the No.10 here, with Matteo Guendouzi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles behind – more on him shortly.
But interestingly, when the German wasn’t involved in the second period, Arteta flipped his midfield triangle, going with one holder (Granit Xhaka) and twin No.8s – Dani Ceballos and Willock – something more akin to how Manchester City lined up during his time as Pep Guardiola’s assistant.
That little switch both allows Ceballos to wander – he prefers to face play than be on the half turn when receiving – and means Willock can arrive late into the penalty box, as he did when scoring the sixth.
- Maitland-Niles’ role
He’s been played at left-back, right-back, as a third centre-half, as a right-sided midfielder and in the middle of the park.
The latter is his preferred position, but is where the 22 year-old has rarely featured there during his first-team career at the Emirates under Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and now Arteta.
In these friendly matches, especially for players who aren’t your guaranteed first-teamers, it’s about doing the most with the time available; certainly, that is what Maitland-Niles did on Saturday.
He started at the base of midfield alongside Matteo Guendouzi, but was given licence to break from midfield and make off-the-ball runs to link up with Lacazette. He did precisely that for the first goal, attacking space between defenders as David Luiz waltzed forward, the Brazilian then firing long and Maitland-Niles nodding down for the Frenchman to rifle home.
Time and again he broke into the box, forcing a good save from Dylan Phillips on one occasion, while he worked hard to filter back alongside Guendouzi.
There have been suggestions that he is playing for his future and the club could look to cash in in the next transfer window. This will have done him no harm whatsoever.
- Eddie Nketiah stakes his claim
His loan spell didn’t work out as hoped at Leeds United, but Nketiah has impressed whenever handed his chances since returning.
He’s a major danger with his movement and speed in behind opposing defences, as well as his ability to sniff out space in crowded penalty areas.
All of that was on display in the second half and while Charlton’s faltering defence means he won’t have offered anything knew to Arteta with his display, it certainly offers food for thought, particularly long-term with speculation over the futures of Lacazette and Aubameyang still.
Expect him to get plenty of minutes in the remainder of the campaign.
- “Special” Nelson over Pepe
Nicolas Pepe hasn’t really shown what you would expect from a £72million club record signing just yet.
Certainly, Arsenal won’t be giving up on him any time soon and will hope to profit with the Ivory Coast international more settled in England.
But perhaps right now Arteta just feels that England Under-21 international Nelson, a player whom he has spoken glowingly about in the last six months, gives the side a little extra at present.
“Reiss is a special player and can eliminate players one on one,” said the coach after an FA Cup win at Portsmouth on March 3.
It may well be Nelson’s shirt to lose right now.
- No cutting corners on safety
Ground staff have got one hell of a job on their hands.
Here, Arsenal staff were working before the game, during the game, and post-game to ensure everything was exactly how it should be.