Arsenal’s pre-season opener – Saliba’s return, impressive Kiwior, Arteta’s coaching change

You could tell Arsenal were in town early in Nuremberg. Red and white shirts filled the city’s Imperial Palace and became more prominent towards the city center. Rather than just being London-based fans who had traveled, many had made the trip from nearby cities and countries to catch the first glimpse of Arsenal in 2023-24.

Their night was mixed and they drew 1-1 with Nürnberg thanks to a Bukayo Saka opener and a Jorginho own goal, but the result was not where the importance lay.

For those in the stands, it was getting attention from players they watch on TV. Some did, and Oleksandr Zinchenko spent 10 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures before the match. For those on the field, it was all about getting minutes and rhythm in their legs to hit the ground running against Nottingham Forest on August 12, and most did.

Here’s what Athletics learned from watching Mikel Arteta’s men for the first time this summer.

The foundations remain intact

One of the main advantages of Arsenal’s pre-season heading into 2022-23 was that they managed to wind down quickly. When they played Crystal Palace on the opening night, Arteta had a preferred starting XI.

The defense was a big part of those foundations and four of the regular back five (Aaron Ramsdale, Benjamin White, William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes), starting their first open pre-season outing this year, could be crucial.

Saliba played his first minutes since his season-ending injury in March and it was recognized in the stands with renditions of the ‘Saliba/Tequila’ chant that came with a German twang shortly after kick-off.

From the back line, Gabriel looked the most up to speed. Captained after Martin Odegaard’s knock in the warm-up, the 25-year-old held Arsenal’s defensive line on the halfway line and was impressive in the air and on the ground. Saliba was less powerful in the air, which is understandable after returning from a back injury, but was able to cover the ground behind with ease.

Six of Arsenal’s regular starters played from the start in Nuremberg. The second-half lapse in composure was understandable with a mix-up between 21-year-old goalkeeper Karl Hein and Jorginho resulting in the equaliser. It shouldn’t be a problem that carries over to those starting week after week, although Jorginho will need to regain his sharpness.

We want to win every game and we need the team because we will face tough opposition.” Arteta said. First of all, we have to prioritize certain things: get everyone healthy in the right physical condition and we have to master the way we want to play.”

Kiwior impresses at left back

Within minutes, it was clear that some themes from last semester will carry over into this season. Despite Zinchenko not starting – he could still miss a few games before returning from his calf problem – Jakub Kiwior did the reverse fullback job extremely well.

The Polish defender looked natural as he picked his moments to drive onto the pitch and those around him knew how to react when he did. At times, Leandro pushed Trossard out of his left-sided No.8 role to create a passing lane on the touchline. Gabriel also pushed wide from left centre-back to receive the ball which would be followed by Reiss Nelson dropping back from the left wing to give him an opportunity.


Kiwior staked his claim to replace Zinchenko (Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

These combinations were where the majority of Arsenal’s bright first half attacks came from, although Saka’s opener came from the right. Kieran Tierney attempted a similar role when deputizing for Zinchenko last season, but the Kiwior looked more confident with the ball in those areas and built on his strong finish last season. Tierney was brought on for the second half but kept his width, as he would naturally do rather than try to turn it around, until the final 10 minutes.

Subtle differences off the pitch

With the departure of assistant coach Steve Round last week, there is a slightly different dynamic in Arteta’s staff heading into the new season. Round, who had coached Arteta as a player at Everton, was hands on and often took the warm-up.

Carlos Cuesta looked set to take more of a lead in Germany, while Albert Stuivenberg was still Arteta’s right-hand man on the sidelines during the match. Cuesta (27) joined Arsenal in August 2020 and looks set to make a strong impact with his ability to understand the players his age.

Alongside this, training the attack phase Hussein Isa (as Athletics revealed had been appointed in January) took charge of some exercises.

Why Nuremberg again?

Arsenal’s pre-season has started in Nuremberg for the second year in a row. The team spent most of their week just northwest of the city at Adidas HQ, which is believed to be a good bonding environment used by the German national team.

Last season, the under-21 left-back, Lino Sousa, told Athletics about the tour where seating plans were randomly assigned. Then-17 he ended up on a table with Arteta, Stuivenberg, Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny. Arsenal Women also visited the campus last summer and left inspired by the design of certain meeting rooms.

After they secured Champions League qualification, Jonas Eidevall admitted to changing the set-up of a meeting room at London Colney training ground to match what they had at Adidas HQ (a round table) to help generate ideas more in cooperation.

This is a huge advantage.Arteta said. Adidas is a very good working environment for us. Very quiet, very private and we will continue to stay here.

(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

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