12:30 BST, Thursday 26th July, National Stadium (Singapore)
Arsenal continue their emergence from the Arsene Wenger-era as they open against Atletico Madrid in the International Champions Cup in humid Singapore. They will look to continue their early progress under new manager Unai Emery after a disappointing season.
Atletico come off a successful season where they finished second in La Liga and triumphed in the Europa League, beating Arsenal in the semi-finals along the way.
Last Time Out
Diego Simeone's side are yet to play a pre-season game, taking their preparations slowing. This is in part due to nine of the first-team squad enjoying their World Cup holiday, but also because of their season starting a week after Arsenal’s. They play five pre-season games, with three in the ICC.
Boreham Wood 0-8 Arsenal [Friendly]
Arsenal made the short trip to fifth-tier Boreham Wood and enjoyed a comfortable run-out in Emery’s unofficial debut. Star strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette combined well to hint at success this season, with the former netting an early ten-minute hat-trick and the latter scoring one.
REUTERS/Paul Childs There were also goals for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and youngsters Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. New signings Sokratis and Matteo Guendouzi made promising debuts, albeit against weak opposition.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
Atletico have been hit by the World Cup, with Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Lucas Hernandez, Sime Vrsaljko, Filipe Luis, Diego Costa, Saul, Koke, Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez all on holiday.
Simeone’s 22-man squad is therefore more of an opportunity for the youngsters - who comprise the majority of the group - than first-team members.
There is no doubt that Emery will use these friendlies to decide on his preferred XI, even if the likes of Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka and new signing Lucas Torreira are away.
The potential front three of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan with the lethal Mesut Ozil in behind promises plenty of thrilling counters and entertainment.
Key Battle: Atletico’s back four vs Arsenal's front three
On paper, this game is mis-matched. While Atletico possess three top-class defenders in Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez, they are all on holiday. With Stefan Savic not on tour, they lack a natural left-back and no senior-centre back.
It provides the club’s young defenders, shepherded by the experienced Juanfran, a chance to impress, but even in pre-season Arsenal’s attacking trio could be too much. It will be interesting to see how Atletico’s fledglings handle their test.
How much impact has Unai Emery had in terms of tactics so far?
Emery has ticked all the boxes so far. His personality is easy-going, he’s made the right noises, and as a result he’s a likeable man. By getting the majority of his transfer business done early, including the impressive capture of Lucas Torreira, the Arsenal fanbase is well aware of his intent.
REUTERS/Paul Childs He has only had a few weeks of training with his squad, but with the majority now in, it will be interesting to see how well they have adapted to his tactics. The high press is one of Emery’s key tactical ideas – whether his squad is getting in line with that philosophy remains to be seen.
In addition, there is a source of intrigue with the formation and personnel choice. If Emery can find a way to get the best out of Aubemeyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Ozil, Arsenal will have one of the best attacks this season. Therein lies his challenge, but also a potential catalyst for success.
The Mesut Ozil situation
The crown jewel in Arsenal, but an ordinary pebble in Germany, Ozil has endured a rough summer with his national side. From a controversial picture with divisive Turkish president Recip Erdogan, it has gone downhill.
REUTERS/Edgar Su A group-stage World Cup exit saw Ozil scapegoated for reasons beyond his control, leading to the midfielder quitting the national team. He cited the racist attitude and extreme criticism towards him.
Read more opinion on Ozil's decision to quit the German national team HERE.
But having made his public statements a couple of days ago, Ozil will have to get back to his best form at Arsenal. His club may provide respite, as might a trip far away from the controversy.
The club are supporting him fully, and Ozil needs to clear his mind in order to focus on the upcoming season. He is sure to get a rousing reception on Thursday.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-3 Arsenal
Given Atletico’s depleted look, Arsenal start as favourites, as it's tough to see them struggle against a youthful side. The game should be entertaining enough in the first-half before substitutions see the contest dwindle into a classic pre-season fixture.
Even without the Atletico stars, there is plenty to look out for from an Arsenal point of view.
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