Gervinho, eater of worlds.
Arsenal's preseason victory over Koln brought us one week closer to the start of the season, and also closer in terms of understanding where Arsenal are at right now. With new signing Gervinho having finally played for Arsenal, it's becoming easier to predict how Arsenal will play next season.
1. Gervinho is well suited to the wide forward role
30 minutes, two goals, a chance created and 2 passes. Gervinho did 3 positive things out of the 5 touches he got, which isn't that bad, really (I believe Wenger would call it "efficient"). What was impressive, though, besides the two goals, was the way he finished his chances and the runs he made. Both finishes were prototypical poacher goals, and both runs were off the shoulder of the last defender. That is because at Arsenal, the poacher, if it still exists, exists as a wide forward.
Someone like Theo Walcott, or Carlos Vela or Gervinho, will make a diagonal run behind the centre backs, space that is created by the movement of the false 9 (either Robin van Persie or Marouane Chamakh). Today, Gervinho had excellent understanding with Chamakh, and made that sort of run for the first goal, and with his second goal made a run towards the penalty area in the hope he'd be found, just like a poacher would. Gervinho is more than a poacher, of course, as he has shown for Lille, but having a player making these sorts of runs will be a big help.
2. The Pressing system is getting there
Well, with the team that played in the first half, anyway. In the first half, Arsenal pressed fairly well, with Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Alex Song always eager to close players down, and, thus Arsenal were able to play a high line with some fair success. There were some wrinkles that had to do with Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson's positioning, and it would be helpful if Arsenal returned to through-marking, thereby eliminating all options. Of course, that requires a lot of energy that may not be available in pre-season, but it was somewhat worrying that Köln sometimes had a man free who was able to play a long pass to trouble Vermaelen and Koscielny. And, of course, Arsenal were susceptible to counter attacks, which can be helped somewhat by pressing immediately after losing the ball.
3. A High Line is Suicidal, with no pressure
We're not really learning this at all; If someone has watched Arsenal enough over the last couple of season, they would've realised at some point that Arsenal defend horrifically when they play a high offside line and there's no pressure on the player with the ball. Stewart Robson may say it one too many times, but he is right. In the second half, Arsenal, aside from Emmanuel Frimpong, and at times Robin van Persie and Tomas Rosicky, didn't press. Coupled with Sebastien Squillaci's snail-like pace, Arsenal looked extremely vulnerable, and could've easily conceded one or two goals. If Arsene Wenger is putting out a team that he knows doesn't press well (and surely, after so many years with these players he must realise who does and doesn't press well), he has to instruct the backline to defend deeper. Otherewise, it's too easy for the opposition to employ the usual "beat-Arsenal" plan.
4. Dynamism is essential to the midfield
Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Patrick Vieira all share something in common: The ability to make driving, dynamic, box to box runs. The best Arsenal midfields have had that, and that is why Arsenal suffer when they don't have Cesc Fabregas or Jack Wilshere in the side. Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky are two very good players, but Nasri is not suited to the number 10 role, and while Rosicky can turn well and is a very good incisive passer, he is not as dynamic and direct as Wilshere (nor does he come from deep). It's these sort of runs that can break down defensive sides, and that is why Wenger persists with Abou Diaby, because he is such a powerful player. But with Diaby permanently injured, Wenger could do worse than signing a similar type of player, because without this threat, Arsenal's midfield becomes static and slow.