Al Nasr 2-3 Arsenal: Plenty to ponder for Unai Emery as Gunners head into testing period

Matt Jones - Editor 21:13 26/03/2019
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Arsenal overcame a lively opening from Dubai hosts Al Nasr to triumph 3-2 in a match to officially open the Arabian Gulf League’s revamped Al Maktoum Stadium.

The hosts were far the better side in the first half, going in front via Ronnie Fernandez’s stunning strike. Carl Jenkinson levelled before the break and the Premier League giants completed the comeback through Alexandre Lacazette and Tyreece John-Jules goals.

Here, we dissect the action and analyses some of the talking points:


Ozil of Arsenal

A game that felt like we were instantly back in pre-season is hardly the time to pass judgement on one of the Premier League’s finest players.

But deep in the heart of Dubai, this friendly was a microcosm of Ozil’s career in north London. Whether it was a meaningless game or not, we got to see both the bewitching and baffling sides of the gifted German.

Gliding about the pitch in the first half, he always looked like the man who would stitch something significant together for Arsenal. The problem was the Gunners were misfiring as Nasr blasted out of the traps, and every neat flick or quick-witted move from Ozil was followed by a lackadaisical, lazy pass or a lackluster, over-ambitious one.

Contrast that with his contribution to the goal that put Arsenal in the ascendancy. As Ainsley Maitland-Niles attacked the space, you could see Ozil’s radar was already switched on to where he could direct the move next.

He wandered into space, drew two defenders, and when Maitland-Niles found him, he feathered a pass into the path of Lacazette for an easy, but stylistically excellent, finish. As a player, he is equally enthralling as he is an enigma.


Ronnie Fernandez slides to celebrate a breathtaking opening goal.

Ronnie Fernandez slides to celebrate a breathtaking opening goal.

Okay, sure, any club is going to raise their level when competing against one of the biggest clubs in the world – look at how fellow UAE clubs Al Jazira and Al Ain performed against Champions League winners Real Madrid at the last two Club World Cups.

But just what rock has this Blue Wave been hiding behind all season?

Sure, this was no more than a friendly for the Premier League big boys, but they still had stars Ozil and Lacazette on the field – and yet they were by far the second best side on it.

Nasr were sharp, incisive and full of attacking intent – they were a joy to watch. Can this performance now kick-start the Benat San Jose era? All is lost for this season. They sit a lowly 11th out of 14 teams in the AGL and remain perilously close to the relegation zone, five points above second-bottom Emirates Club.

Any conciliatory success in the cups was robbed on each occasion by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club – who knocked Nasr out of both the President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup at the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively.

On this performance, their cataclysmic failure of a campaign is a puzzling conundrum to explain.


Ainsley Maitland-Niles shone after coming on.

Tyreece John-Jules shone and scored after coming on.

Clubs the world over are pouring into the UAE, and especially Dubai, during the European winter for some much-needed relaxation and recharging of the batteries as the torturous business end of the season takes its toll.

For Unai Emery and his men this was a chance to regroup, relax and refocus ahead of the return of club football this weekend.

The Gunners went into the international break on the back of fine victories against Manchester United – revenge for their FA Cup exit – and a resounding 3-0 win in the second leg of their Europa League last 16 tie against Rennes, to undo the damage done from a 3-1 first-leg defeat.

The United triumph saw the men from the Emirates leapfrog the Red Devils into the coveted final spot in the Premier League’s top four.

They welcome Newcastle to the Emirates on Monday ahead of a tricky trip to Everton, in what is sure to be a tight and tense race for the last two Champions League places.

This was a useful break and run-out. But now, the most testing period of the season approaches.

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