Arsenal stepped up their preparations for the Premier League’s return on Saturday afternoon at the Emirates Stadium, playing a behind closed doors friendly clash with Championship outfit Charlton Athletic.
It was the Gunners’ first outing since the campaign was suspended back in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic and Mikel Arteta’s side, who will resume their campaign with a trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City a-week-on-Wednesday, wasted little time in getting back into the swing of things.
The Gunners, sampling their first taste of behind closed doors action ahead of the Premier League’s return, put six goals past the Addicks, running out emphatic 6-0 winners, as Arteta fielded a strong side.
Arsenal held a two-goal lead at half time thanks to strikes from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before the home side began to turn the screw in the second half.
Substitute Eddie Nketiah netted a hat-trick to put the Gunners five goals to the good before Joseph Willock completed the rout by making it 6-0, ensuring Arsenal’s players stored a positive, morale-boosting 90 minutes under their belts.
Though the game was staged behind closed doors, which will have given both Arsenal and Charlton’s players a taste for what is to come once the Premier League and Championship campaigns resume, photographers were on hand to capture some of the best bits.
A sign of what is to come
Whilst Arsenal’s players will have no doubt felt somewhat relieved to be back out strutting their stuff on the Emirates Stadium turf, they will have no doubt felt a sense of change, certainly in more ways than one.
Whilst it is not uncommon for clubs to play behind closed doors friendly matches at their respective training grounds, playing them inside an empty 60-000-capacity stadium will have had an odd feeling to it.
And that is feeling that Arteta and his players are going to have to get used to, and it is impossible to predict just how long for, too.
In line with new social distancing rules, as set out by the Government, it states that people not living in the same household should try and stay 2m apart where possible, and it appears as though the Gunners’ players have taken that message on board.
As you can see in the photograph, from left to right, Aubameyang, Willock, Nicolas Pepe, Matteo Guendouzi and Rob Holding all spaced themselves out to reduce the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19.
Whilst, of course, friendly matches are a lot more relaxed than league fixtures, it is highly likely that this could be familiar sight in weeks and months to come, as substitutes are likely to be forced to spread out when matches are in play.
Kieran Tierney returns
Whilst it was Nketiah’s second half treble that will have dominated the headlines following the full time whistle at a sparse Emirates Stadium, the return of Kieran Tierney to action will have been a welcomed sight for Arteta and the Arsenal coaching staff.
Prior to the campaign being suspended almost three months ago, left-back Tierney, who joined the Gunners from Scottish giants Celtic last summer for £25million, had been nursing a shoulder injury.
The 23-year-old dislocated his shoulder during the Gunners’ 3-1 victory over West Ham United at the London Stadium back in December and had not featured since.
He was forced to undergo surgery and was predicted to spend three months on the sidelines.
Whilst the season coming to a standstill has not been ideal for anyone, in truth, the break has allowed Tierney to work his way back to full fitness and look to try and impress boss Arteta in the remaining games this season, as reports continue to link him with an exit from the Emirates Stadium after less than 12 months at the club.
But the left-back started the win over the Addicks and will have been hoping he made an impression on Arteta and his coaching staff ahead of the season resuming in a little over a week’s time.
Saka’s new role?
Ever since Arsenal made a return to training last month, one topic has been up for discussion a lot more than any other: Bukayo Saka’s long-term position.
Just as the Premier League season hit the buffers back in March, the highly-rated 18-year-old appeared set on making the left-back berth his very own.
He looked ice cool in a defensive sense and even stronger going forward, as he looked to offer the Gunners an alternative option when on the attack. But ever since training resumed at London Colney last month, Gunners fans have been pondering whether or not Arteta is planning changes for Saka’s long-term future, as he appeared to have been running at right-back Hector Bellerin in training.
That suggested that the England Under-19 international could be working on his technique as a winger, as he aims to strengthen himself in that department ahead of the Premier League’s return.
And judging by a photograph that has been published of Saka in action against Charlton,, it appears as though the versatile left-sided star, who didn’t start the game, was playing in a more advanced role.
It look as though the youngster was looking to get his head up at byline and send over a cross, suggesting that he was playing in a more advanced role.
Saka has previously said that he plans to have a career of being an attacking player, so perhaps the Gunners academy graduate has held discussions with Arteta over the break about his long-term plans.
Face masks and disinfecting
It is a sight we have accustomed to in almost every sense of every day life since the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the UK.
The sight of people sporting face masks and continuously cleaning is something that is no longer given a second thought.
Now, it has made its entrance into English football. Arsenal players and staff were spotted donning face masks whilst a groundsman was pictured spraying disinfectant on one of the corner flags.
It is a strange sight that we are used to seeing in the world of football but it is one, certainly for now, that is here to stay.
Nketiah knows where the net is
Whilst the ultimate responsibility of putting the ball in the back of the net for Arsenal falls to Aubameyang and Lacazette, youngster Nketiah, who spent the first half of the 2019/20 season on loan at Leeds United, has put himself right amongst the mix to spearhead the Gunners’ forward line.
The striker stepped off the bench to score a second half hat-trick against Charlton, showcasing just how important he could be to Arsenal’s remaining games this season.
Nketiah, who turned 21 last month, will have grand ambitions to cement himself as a regular, first-team player at Arsenal sooner rather than later and scoring a hat-trick is most certainly the right way to go about it.
Prior to the season being suspended back in March, he had netted three goals in seven matches since his return from Elland Road, proving to Arteta and the rest of the Gunners coaching staff that he is no mood to be messing around.