Emirates Cup: Lessons for Arsene Wenger
Arsenal lifted the Emirates Cup for the fifth time on Sunday night - but what did Arsene Wenger learn from his side's double-header over the weekend?
The Gunners hammered Benfica 5-2 on Saturday before going down 2-1 to Sevilla 24 hours later, securing an Emirates Cup win thanks to a points system which rewards goal-scoring. Ultimately, the results and trophy win count for little, though - Wenger will be far more focused on his side's performances.
Kolasinac adds power
'Powerful' is the word which springs to mind when assessing Sead Kolasinac - and his performance at left wing-back against Benfica reflected his burly physique. The summer signing bullied Pizzi out of possession before crossing for Theo Walcott to score Arsenal's opener, and repeatedly surged forwards with the ball.
But there were moments of cuteness too. As well as the precise, clipped cross for Walcott, Kolasinac played a neat wall pass for Francis Coquelin to tee up the England forward for his second, before feeding Olivier Giroud in the box in the build-up to Alex Iwobi adding Arsenal's fifth.
Lacazzette and Giroud primed for no.9 battle
Wenger has a selection dilemma ahead of the opening weekend of the Premier League season, with new signing Alexandre Lacazette and Giroud vying to lead the line.
Record buy Lacazette has the No9 squad number and capped his first start at the Emirates with a goal against Sevilla on Sunday, turning in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross. But while the former Lyon man regularly took up good positions against the Spanish side (and could have scored twice more had Danny Welbeck found him with cut-backs) his involvement in the final third was limited.
Giroud, in contrast, delivered a bustling, all-round performance against Benfica described as "great" by his manager. The 30-year-old appears to have found good form. Granted, Giroud may have been pitted against weaker opposition, but he produced a fine, volleyed goal to cap a display which had seen him set up Iwobi and provide Walcott with a gilt-edged chance the England man somehow blasted off target.
Wenger will be sticking with three-at-the-back this season - the question for the manager is how that trio of centre-backs is best made up. Throughout pre-season, the Frenchman has experimented with a variety of options, and he continued to look at different combinations during the Emirates Cup. There have been some surprise choices this summer, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, more often seen in a wide role, and defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny, both pushed back into central defence, and the pair had run-outs in the backline over the weekend.
Maitland-Niles made up for what he lacked in height and positional experience against Benfica with his rapid pace, while Elneny put in a combative display against Sevilla, impressing when he stepped up with the ball at his feet, although caught out by Wissam Ben Yedder's movement when the forward drifted off the Egyptian before shooting against the post. Laurent Koscielny, who came up with a key interception in the first-half against Sevilla, showed his class against the Spanish side, while Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers barely put a foot wrong in their Sunday stints.
However, there were gasps when Per Mertesacker gave the ball away on the edge of the box in the build-up to Benfica's second and both he and Rob Holding also culpable for conceding possession deep in his own half managed to inadvertently deflect shots past David Ospina.
Wenger has a range of options - with Shkodran Mustafi also available but selecting a three-man defence he can count on throughout the campaign will be one of his most important decisions ahead of the new season
Talented youngsters eager to step up
Wenger has consistently used the Emirates Cup as an opportunity to hand first-team experience to Arsenal's most promising youngsters. That doesn't mean an appearance in the summer tournament is a guarantee of future success - Yaya Sanogo scored four in one game in the 2014 edition - but the home supporters in attendance this weekend will feel excited about the latest crop emerging from the youth ranks.
Reiss Nelson was undoubtedly the standout prospect on show across the two days. The 17-year-old England youth international dribbled at his Benfica markers with pace and confidence, recorded an assist with a neat left-foot cross and backed up a fine pre-season with the senior side.
19-year-old Maitland-Niles also earned credit in an unfamiliar centre-back role on Saturday, using his pace and skill on the ball to get himself out of tricky situations, while Joe Willock, 17, was tidy in the centre of the park against Sevilla, and 21-year-old Cohen Bramall - who was playing for non-league Hednesford Town this time last summer - produced a goal-saving interception during his 45 minutes on Sunday. The future's bright.