Pat Nevin: Fine tuning and famous faces
column Tue 8 Aug 2017
Pat Nevin was sat alongside some of football's greats to watch our final game of pre-season on Sunday. In his latest column, as well as looking ahead to the start of the serious action, our former winger discusses what caught his eye at Wembley…
The pre-season matches ended with the Community Shield game at Wembley, which obviously didn’t give us the result we wanted. It did, however, give the manager a good idea of what stage the team and the individuals are at regarding the real deal against Burnley on Saturday at the Bridge. As usual, there were positives and negatives from the outing, but even though it was a day at Wembley it is really nothing more than the phoney war if we are being honest.
Rather oddly, I sat through the match at Wembley surrounded by football legends. Ryan Giggs and I sat together chatting through the first half and as is always the case with former players, it was mostly a tactical discussion. I suppose I shouldn’t divulge his comments other than the fact that we both agreed the absence of Eden Hazard had a huge bearing on the game and, more specifically, our enjoyment of it. The winger's union tend to stick together and our missing Belgian was hard to ignore whether you were a committed Blue or just an interested observer.
After half-time I found myself sitting next to Martin Keown with his Gooner glasses on, but even that was interesting. In actual fact Martin and I get on perfectly well, we were team-mates at Everton for a few years and we were able to have a discussion about the merits of David Luiz, not exactly the same type of centre-back as Martin. He said the Brazilian’s cheeky headed back-pass was impressive and that his passing range was as good as anybody around, but then you don’t need to be a former England defender to be able to spot that.
Both of us did, however, concede that neither team were exactly firing on all cylinders quite yet. Chelsea had three key starters from last season not available for separate reasons and Arsenal were missing Sanchez and Koscielny, their two best performers generally, along with the long-term absentee Santi Cazorla. So indicators were certainly there, but no definitive answers could be ascertained regarding the rest of the season.
With very few chances falling Michy Batshuayi’s way, the introduction of Alvaro Morata piqued the interest of most viewers. Once again sitting among other ex-players, I was keen to gauge the reaction. Geoff Hurst, who apparently had quite a good day at Wembley once, noted our new striker’s movement. He did have one chance at the back right-hand post, but the impressive thing was the peeling away from his marker which created the opportunity in the first place.
It was the second time he did it in the game, and there is no doubt whatsoever that if he continues to move with that intelligence then Cesc Fabregas, David Luiz, Hazard, Willian, Pedro and the rest will pick him out and the chances will continue to come, hopefully along with the goals.
Other than that, the defence looks up to speed for the opener and one glimpse of Antonio Rudiger underlines that pace is not going to be a problem for him. Cesc was passing well, N’Golo Kante was just being unnaturally brilliant with his tackling, as usual, but poor old Pedro is probably having the unluckiest pre-season in history so far.
Following that horrific collision with David Ospina the other week there was a moment at Wembley when I thought he was in for the same fate against Petr Cech. Happily both players saw sense and the collision was averted at the last moment. Pedro did, however, get sent off, although it was a 'striker's tackle' with little or no malice.
Willian wasn’t carrying any luck either at Wembley, the coming together in the Arsenal box was emphatically not a dive! There was contact as the defender’s knee clipped Willian’s ankle which flicked on to his other leg to bring him down. Only one camera angle showed it, so it was an incredibly tough call for the officials. I was amazed when one former top-class referee called it a dive. If you are going to suggest cheating, you must look at the incident forensically and the low-behind angle in slow motion showed it clearly. I would have given a penalty for the albeit undeliberate trip.
It is better to get the bad luck and the rustiness out of the way now, though, and hopefully on Saturday we will see the team come to the boil just at the right time. It sounds odd, but having played games against Bayern Munich, Arsenal twice and Inter Milan I think we would all agree on one thing: in terms of importance, none of them even come close to the visit of Burnley on Saturday, and hopefully we can start the season by picking up three points.