Arsenal maintained their impressive pre-season form with a commanding 3-0 victory over Fiorentina in Charlotte. Eddie Nketiah was the hero again, scoring in either half as Unai Emery made plenty of changes ahead of their meeting with Real Madrid on Tuesday. Another youngster, Joe Willock, scored the late third.
Here are Telegraph Sport’s key talking points from North Carolina.
Eddie strikes again
What to do with Eddie Nketiah? This is a tricky situation for Arsenal, who have a supremely talented young striker on their books but a lack of depth in attack that is threatening to stunt his development.
Nketiah scored the winner against Bayern Munich in Los Angeles last week and he impressed again in Charlotte. His composure, dropping a shoulder to lose his marker before firing low into the bottom corner for his first and then tapping in a second, was further proof of his predatory qualities in front of goal.
The 20-year-old also held the ball up well and caused problems for the Fiorentina defence with his willingness to dart in behind. He has shown plenty over these past few days to suggest that he is ready for a more regular role in Unai Emery’s first team this season.
But there lies the problem. On an individual level, Nketiah will be better served going out on loan this season (Bristol City are interested) and experiencing regular first-team football. He will not get that at Arsenal, where Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remain such pivotal figures. And yet Arsenal would have almost no cover for their two centre-forwards if Nketiah is allowed to leave. If Aubameyang tweaked a hamstring, for example, then Lacazette would be the only senior striking option.
It was this conundrum which prevented Nketiah from joining Augsburg on loan in January. With Danny Welbeck injured, Nketiah was barred from leaving. Welbeck has now left the club for good, and there are no imminent plans to sign a replacement centre-forward, so the situation remains the same as it was in the winter.
Arsenal essentially must decide whether the short-term pain of having no striking depth is worth the long-term gain of allowing Nketiah to develop at the fastest possible rate. As his performances in the US have showed, he has plenty of ability and, crucially, he also has that helpful knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Mustafi’s lack of confidence
Given the context, it is hardly a surprise that Shkodran Mustafi is struggling on this tour. The German’s summer started with more reports that Arsenal are trying to sell him again, before his first few appearances in the US were met with boos.
The jeers raise their own questions about the word “supporter”, and it certainly does not feel right that a player is being booed simply because the fans do not deem him good enough. It is also tempting to wonder how much this is damaging Mustafi’s own confidence.
Mustafi presents a macho front, and is one of the more extroverted characters in the Arsenal dressing room, but surely even the most self-confident player would be shaken by the lack of faith he receives from his fans and club?
Naturally, it all comes back to performances. The reason the fans have turned on him is because he has not been good enough. And so he is in a vicious cycle of mistake followed by hate followed by mistake followed by hate. There were two more in the first half alone against Fiorentina, including a criminal dispossession which almost led to a goal.
The sorry truth is that it is hard to see how the situation can improve for Mustafi, beyond a sudden and unexpected upturn in performances. It increasingly feels like he would be best served leaving the club and starting afresh elsewhere.
Emery won’t stop shuffling
It felt instructive that, against Bayern Munich in LA, Emery played his best possible side and lined up them up in a back four. He has always favoured a four-man defence in his career, but Arsenal spent so much of last season operating with a back three.
The belief is that Emery will want to return to a back four on a more permanent basis this season. The arrival of Kieran Tierney from Celtic, if Arsenal can get that deal over the line, would help on that front.
It is clear that the Spaniard still wants versatility, though. He wants to keep the opposition guessing and he likes the idea of having an adaptable group of players who can be fluid both between games and within them. The likes of Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac are well suited to a back three, but there is a knock-on effect which means there are less options in attacking midfield positions in that system.
The second half against Fiorentina will have further convinced Emery that a four-man defence is the better option. Arsenal looked more solid, and they had more variety in their attacking play.
As the only new signing of Arsenal’s summer so far, all eyes have been on Brazilian teenager Gabriel Martinelli on this tour. He scored on his debut against Colorado Rapids last week and almost grabbed another in the final moments here. The final shot, with only the goalkeeper to beat, was disappointing, but the run to get there would have set pulses racing across the red half of north London.
Martinelli picked the ball up in his own half, nutmegged one Fiorentina defender and surged clear of the rest. The speed was electrifying and the whole move bodes well for the future. Much like Nketiah, Martinelli has a long way to go but he is another young talent who will be the source of plenty of excitement back home.