Rangers 2-2 Arsenal: Friendly – 17/07/2021

In all the frenzy of England inexplicably reaching the EURO 2020 (played in 2021) final, the signing of Nuno Tavares, the imminent arrival of Albert Sambi Lokonga, the news that the team will be the subject of an Amazon documentary and the fact that a £50m bid for Ben White has been accepted, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for not knowing that there was, in fact, a pre-season match to be played.

After a depressingly sour run out against Scottish team Hibernian (Arsenal lost 2-1), Arsenal played their final game of their Scotland training camp against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.

Last year’s Scottish champions were confirmed to be a pre-season friendly opponent many months ago, however, preparation tends to go out of the window in games such as these. The main focus of pre-season has always been to build confidence in tactics, familiarise yourself with the potential youngsters who could be coming through next season and, most importantly, for the players to build match fitness.

The absence of established first-team players, Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Bernd Leno did not stop Arsenal from fielding a very strong side from the get-go, including goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo (fresh off signing his new contract with the club) and new boy Nuno Tavares.

The game got off to a pretty decent start. Arsenal created plenty of chances and had the lion share of possession. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a number of easy chances (a recurring theme throughout the game both for him and the team) and Rangers punished Arsenal’s misfirings with an expertly worked corner, which was headed, a little easily, past Arsenal’s goalkeeper to give the home side the lead.

Nicolas Pépé in action.

It wasn’t really particularly deserved, but Arsenal continued to create chances and soon, one was snapped up by Nuno Tavares on his (unofficial) debut! A hint of handball would likely have seen the goal ruled out in the Premier League, but Tavares’ determination to burst forward, carried him into the box where he bent his effort into the far corner, in a finish that would have had Thierry Henry (or an on-form Aubameyang) clapping.

The break saw wide-scale changes. The difficult with pre-season is knowing who remains and who leaves, with commentators themselves often struggling to keep on top of the substitutions. However, one notable addition was Kieran Tierney. Though the former Celtic man was routinely booed by the minimal home support at Ibrox, it was nevertheless refreshing to see Tierney (also fresh off signing a new contract with the club) appear for the team so quickly after Scotland’s unceremonious (if not predictable) EUROs exit.

What wasn’t so refreshing, however, was to see Arsenal concede yet again from a set-piece. This time, Rangers’ substitute Cedric Itten rose highest to put the ball in the back of the net.

Arsenal did respond with a stupendous effort from Eddie Nketiah deep in the second-half, but it had the familiar tale of Arsenal of last season. So many chances created, so many oppourtunities to kill the game off, and yet, mistakes or lack of concentration means Arsenal end up getting nothing from the game.

A 2-2 finish didn’t really reflect the game as a whole. Arsenal were much the better side, and but for their goals, it’s hard to remember Rangers really threatening either of Arsenal’s goalkeepers.

Cedric Itten gives Rangers the lead for the second time in the match.

It was a bad day at the office for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Though the Arsenal captain will likely be spared his blushes by virtue of the fact that the game was a pre-season friendly, there was something ominous about the Arsenal captain’s poor finishing on the day. Confined to the annals of pre-season and in isolation, the poor finishing on display can be forgiven, but Arsenal fans will hope that this doesn’t follow into the next few matches, as well as the new season. One particularly poor miss, following good work from Emile Smith Rowe is one that the Gabonese forward would rather consign to the nightmare fuel highlight reel.

It was a decent performance from Nuno Tavares as well. Very little happened down his side and he was rarely, if at all, troubled, but he showed his willingness to both attack and get back and defend. The leggy left-back’s pace looks to be an extremely useful resource for the forthcoming season and his goal (taken with his right-foot) will also be welcomed too.

The other main issue for the team seemed to stem from Arsenal’s sudden, inexplicable issue at defending set-pieces. The arrival of Nicolas Jover from Manchester City as set-piece coach in the wake of Andreas Georgson’s departure will mean that extra scrutiny will be placed on Arsenal’s set-pieces from now on. The vulnerability will likely have been aided by youth players not used to senior football and the fact that this is only the team’s second match in as much as two months, but the worries are there nevertheless, especially given Arsenal’s spectacular defensive record from set-pieces last season, in which Arsenal only conceded 5 of their overall 39 goals last seaosn from dead ball situations.

Arsenal’s next pre-season game is in the Florida Cup, in which they face off against Inter Milan and their newly appointed coach, Simone Inzaghi.

Arsenal team:
33.) Arthur Okonkwo (Hein)
17.) Cédric Soares (Bellerín)
16.) Rob Holding (Chambers)
22.) Pablo Marí (Kolašinac)
20.) Nuno Tavares (Tierney)
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Willock)
  5.) Thomas Partey (Willian)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Maitland-Niles)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Nelson)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Nketiah)
26.) Folarian Balogun (Lacazette)

Arsenal subs:
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
21.) Calum Chambers
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
  3.) Kieran Tierney
31.) Send Kolašinac
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
28.) Joe Willock
24.) Reiss Nelson
12.) Willian
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Rangers team:
  1.) Allan McGregor
26.) Leon Balogun (Simpson)
  6.) Connor Goldson (Kelly)
  2.) James Tavernier (c) (Middleton)
  3.) Calvin Bassey (Edmundson)
  4.) John Lundstram (Hastie)
18.) Glen Kamara (Patterson)
  7.) Ianis Hagi
10.) Steven Davis (Arfield)
25.) Kemar Roofe (Itten)
  9.) Jermain Defoe (Wright)

Rangers subs:
33.) Jon McLaughlin
15.) Jack Simpson
34.) Lewis Mayo
16.) Nathan Patterson
29.) George Edmundson
40.) Glen Middleton
27.) Stephen Kelly
37.) Scott Arfield
22.) Jordan Jones
11.) Cedric Itten
32.) Jake Hastie
23.) Scott Wright

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