Rice was deployed between Havertz and Odegaard in a sign of the midfield to come – Arsenal FC/Stuart MacFarlane
Declan Rice made his first appearance for Arsenal, as a second-half substitute, and helped finish off a 5-0 victory over the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday night.
Gabriel Jesus, Leandro Trossard, Jorginho, Gabriel Martinelli and Kai Havertz all scored.
Rice moved from West Ham to the Arsenal for a British-record transfer fee last weekend. A large Arsenal-supporting crowd roared when he came in just over an hour into the match, and cheered his every touch.
US national team forward Folarin Balogun, whose days at Arsenal could be numbered, also came on for the London club at the same time as Rice. By then, Arsenal had a 3-0 lead.
“I think we were suffocated with the weather … and we could not really control the game,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “But it’s true that we were exceptional in both boxes today. Every time we got in the final third in good position, we put the ball in the back of the net.”
Here’s five things Arsenal fans learned from the first game of their preseason tour.
Havertz hits the ground running
Kai Havertz, it is fair to say, did not have the best time of it in the MLS All Stars skills challenge on Tuesday. Arsenal’s new £65 million signing became the first player to fail to score a goal in the cross-and-volley challenge at the event and there were plenty lining up to mock him on social media in its aftermath.
Yet those same people will have been a lot less vocal after Arsenal’s 5-0 drubbing of the MLS All Stars team at Audi Field in Washington DC on Wednesday night.
With delicious irony, Havertz marked his second appearance in Arsenal colours with a fine goal from, yes, a cross, the Germany international, who was introduced at half-time, cushioning the ball down off his chest before firing home a volley to complete Arsenal’s romp.
After a torrid final season with Chelsea, it will be intriguing to see how Havertz fares under Mikel Arteta, particularly as it is clear the Arsenal manager has earmarked a different role on the left of a midfield three for the 24-year-old.
Interestingly, Arteta believes Havertz’s versatility will allow him to perform a number of roles for Arsenal but after his struggles as a false nine at Stamford Bridge a move into midfield, where he originally started out for Bayer Leverkusen, may help to better unlock all of that potential.
“I think again that’s one of the main qualities that he has,” Arteta said of Havertz’s versatility. “He gives us something different with his quality and his height, for example, where he can be a target man if we need to beat the press.
“He’s playing at the attacking midfield position for now but I’m sure throughout the season he’ll be used in different positions.”
Declan Rice’s debut
There was no doubting who got the biggest cheer of the night. Declan Rice’s introduction for Jorginho shortly after the hour mark was rapturously received by the Arsenal fans in the crowd.
The game also offered a first glimpse of what is likely to be Arteta’s first-choice midfield next season, with Havertz and Martin Odegaard either side of the England midfielder.
Wayne Rooney, the former Manchester United and England captain who was managing the MLS All Stars here, was full of praise for Rice and believes Arsenal’s new signings will ensure they are stronger next season.
How Rice handles the pressure of the price-tag remains to be seen but he was all smiles at Audi Field.
Solid piece of Timber
Arteta’s face quickly turned into a smile at the first mention of Timber’s enterprising second-half showing against Rooney’s side.
The Holland defender, who completed a £34 million move from Ajax last week 12 months after being coveted by Manchester United, oozed confidence on his debut after being introduced for the final half an hour. Deployed as an inverted full back, the Dutchman was comfortable on the ball and unafraid to bark instructions and tell his team-mates where he wanted them, routinely pointing at winger Marquinhos to show he where he expected him to be.
“I think you’ve seen tonight,” said Arteta when asked how important an addition Timber could prove. “He’s a really versatile player. We can use him in different positions within those positions. He gives you the capacity to invert and occupy different spaces.
“He’s so comfortable on the ball in that phase. As well he’s got that aggression in the duels and that dynamism which I really like. You saw with his first action, high press won the ball straight away, won the duel and was ready to go. He is going to be a really important player for us.”
Saliba picks up where he left off
There are few sights that will have pleased Arsenal supporters as much this summer as the return of William Saliba.
Mikel Arteta will never know whether Arsenal’s season might have turned out differently had his star centre-back not suffered a back injury against Sporting Lisbon in March that ruled him out of his side’s final 11 Premier League games.
But the France defender’s absence was keenly felt as Arsenal’s defence suddenly began to flood goals and Manchester City took full advantage to clinch a third successive title.
For all the excitement around new signings – Rice, Havertz and Timber for around £200 million – Saliba’s comeback from injury is arguably as important a development as any for Arsenal this summer.
The MLS All Stars, managed by the former Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney, may not have been up to too much but Saliba’s quality still shone through, six days after a first outing back against Nurnberg. The 22-year-old covers the ground quickly and effortlessly and reads the game extremely well, as evidenced when nonchalantly intercepting two through balls and playing a smart offside in the first period.
Like Saliba, Arteta will also be pleased to have Takehiro Tomiyasu back. The Japan defender was originally expected to be out until September with a knee injury suffered in the same game that claimed Saliba but he was also back in action here.
More strength, more depth
No team in Europe can compete with Manchester City for quality of squad, with Pep Guardiola able to draw upon two outstanding talents for every position. But Arteta will feel Arsenal are better equipped next season for the challenge of competing both domestically and in Europe.
The first XI may look something like this: Ramsdale; Timber, Saliba, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Rice, Havertz; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli. But Arsenal’s relative second string is better than it has looked for a long time: Turner; Tomiyasu, White, Kiwior, Tierney; Vieira, Jorginho, Smith-Rowe; Nelson, Nketiah, Trossard.
Asked if he will have more variety this time around, Arteta said: “We will have to see, but the idea is to be more unpredictable every year and more difficult for the opponents to stop and nullify what they do. I think now, especially in the back and midfield we have many more options than we had last year.”
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