It would be nice if things went smoothly at all times, but that is not the way of the world.
Arsenal had lined up their ducks in a row this summer. They identified and signed their main transfer targets early on and looked to use this pre-season slightly differently compared to last time round, experimenting with various themes of play and combinations to get the most out of their growing squad. The only thing that has held them back has been minor injuries — the latest sustained by Gabriel Jesus.
The 26-year-old missed Arsenal’s 1-1 draw against Monaco on Wednesday due to a knee issue which required attention earlier that day.
“Unfortunately he had a little procedure this morning,” Arteta said. “He had some discomfort in his knee that has been causing some issues and he had to go and resolve it. It’s not something major, but he is going to be out for a few weeks I think.”
This is not the first minor setback Arsenal have had to deal with this summer. Oleksandr Zinchenko has not played a minute in pre-season after suffering a calf issue but is “close” to a return, according to Arteta. Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice missed matches against Nuremberg and Barcelona respectively after picking up knocks in training, while Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Martinelli have had staggered returns to the pitch.
Across Arteta’s tenure, injuries to key players have had major impacts on Arsenal’s seasons. In 2021-22, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierneys’ injuries left them incredibly light in midfield and at left-back as they missed out on Champions League qualification. Last season, it was William Saliba’s season-ending back injury that proved costly in the title race, exposing quite how key his attributes had been to Arsenal’s defensive foundations.
Jesus’ four-month absence after his knee injury at the World Cup also hurt Arsenal last term, but was less telling. Their attack still functioned and the team won nine of their 12 matches before he returned to the starting line-up against Leeds United in April. That experience, alongside the knowledge that his current setback is relatively minor, should ensure Arteta is calm in the forward’s absence this time round, even if this is far from an ideal situation.
Eddie Nketiah stood in for Jesus against Monaco. He was the only starter who had played under the on-looking Arsene Wenger — back at the Emirates in bronze and in the flesh — and captained a line-up that had been heavily rotated with Sunday’s Community Shield and the need to offer squad players minutes in mind.
His performance was not one of the perfect striker, but the aspects of his play that allowed him to deputise Jesus well last season were still evident.
He found space in the box well for his goal, took the ball well on the turn and made a nuisance of himself for Monaco’s defenders even when it seemed as if he was chasing lost causes. Indecision reared up at times but, at 24, Nketiah remains a capable understudy to Jesus.
If Arteta does not feel Nketiah is the right fit, however, there is another option that is very much in line with the vision Wenger once imprinted on Arsenal: Leandro Trossard.
Technical ability underpinned all of Wenger’s Arsenal teams, especially after the move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium, and Trossard is one of the players who reflects that technical proficiency most under Arteta. When the forward signed in January, Arteta said: “The technical part is a very relevant and important aspect for us.
“Specificity is another that is really necessary in our way of playing, but it’s true we need players who can fulfil certain positions and Leo is one of them. The skill, the composure he has in the final third, his technical ability to associate and link with people is impressive, and that’s what we need from our front players especially.”
The Emirates got another glimpse of that late on against Monaco when Trossard moved into a central fole after Nketiah departed. A first-time back heel on halfway directly from an Aaron Ramsdale pass to find Kai Havertz and set up an Arsenal attack was the most inspired moment, but there have been many other touches of quality that have impressed in various areas during pre-season.
His two goals against Barcelona came off the left. Early on, he operated deeper as a left-sided No 8 and chipped in with another goal against MLS All-Stars, while he also excelled in a Jesus-like false nine role last season.
Unlike when the Brazilian left the 2022 World Cup injured, Arteta has more options at his disposal with the Brazilian sidelined.
That is also true in other areas of the pitch which means that, even with key figures missing, no sense of panic has infected Arsenal’s lead up into the season.
Without Zinchenko, Jakub Kiwior, Jurrien Timber and Tomiyasu have all performed well at left-back — against Monaco, Tomiyasu and Timber even switched between right-back and left-back at various points. Partey stepped in when Rice was absent in the United States, but the pair started alongside each other against Monaco in yet another Arteta experiment.
Arsenal have not built the same momentum over pre-season that served them so well at the start of the 2022-23 campaign, but a change in focus has been clear. With Jesus out, and Manchester City in the Community Shield their only game before the Premier League is upon us, that sharpness needs to be more consistent over 90 minutes — which it should be when Odegaard, Saliba, Ben White and Bukayo Saka return to the starting XI.
Here’s what we noticed behind the scenes of Arsenal’s U.S. tour
(Top photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)