It was an oppressively hot and muggy day in Charlotte, NC, just as you’d expect. And just as you’d expect, Arsenal supporters outnumbered Fiorentina fans by a wide margin, leading to some pretty absurd crowd reactions. USWNT superstar Megan Rapinoe was the guest of honor and performed the coin toss, which was also pretty cool. There were still some pretty great moments, though.
Nope! Last 10 minutes it was Lakti, Koffi, Beloko And Hristov. Dabo actually posted a video of me wearing his jersey from the sky box during the game and came down to the field after the game. Beloko cut his hair so they must have just gotten confused pic.twitter.com/33npynZxg2— Bradley Cavalletti (@50CaliberPistol) July 21, 2019
Lineup (4-3-3): Drągowski; Venuti, Ceccherini, Ranieri, Terzić; Castrovilli, Cristoforo, Benassi; Sottil, Vlahović, Saponara
Fiorentina created considerably more chances in the opening half largely due to some poor play at the back from Arsenal. After Federico Ceccherini nearly nodded a cross into his own net, Dušan Vlahović tested Emiliano Martínez on the break, forcing a strong save. Arsenal broke the other way from that corner and youngster Eddie Nketiah scored against a disjointed Viola defense. Ceccherini forced Arsenal to clear his header off the line from a corner and Riccardo Sottil called Martínez into action with a sharp drive from distance on the break, but the half ended with Arsenal in the lead despite Fiorentina mostly looking stronger.
Lineup (4-3-3): Terracciano; Venuti (Beloko 84’), Ceccherini (Hristov 84’), Ranieri (Milenković 72’), Terzić (Hancko 72’); Żurkowski, Cristoforo (Lakti 84’), Benassi (Báez 72’); Sottil (Koffi 84’), Vlahović (Simeone 72’), Saponara (Eysseric 72’)
The Viola got 3 decent efforts on target from Marco Benassi, Ceccherini, and Vlahović in the first 6 minutes, but the Gunners squeaked away without conceding. The Londoners grew into the game, although some questionable decision-making from Pietro Terracciano—most notably a jaunt forward to punch a ball out that wasn’t even close to being in the box, earning himself a booking—helped. They got their second through a blatant foul (in a match with VAR, it never would have stood), with Carl Jenkinson blocking two defenders to allow Henrikh Mkhitaryan to play in Alexandre Lacazzaette, who squared the ball to Nketiah for the tap in. Despite some positive intent, Arsenal got a third just before the final whistle when the Viola backline missed a couple of tackles on the counter, giving Joe Willock an easy shot.
Drągowski—6: Didn’t have much to do. Not even remotely at fault on the goal and didn’t really face any other shots. Continued to look more comfortable than we expected in possession.
Venuti—5: Struggled to keep up with Sead Kolašinac on the wing and had a lot of trouble figuring out whether to mark the opposing wingback or drop deeper and help with the strikers, leaving Sottil to handle the wingback. Seemed a bit out of sync.
Ceccherini—6: Should have scored a peach of a header and put an overhead kick on target, which was cool. Cleaned up his passing compared to last time out, but still lost runners at times and didn’t seem super comfortable with the physical presence of Lacazzette.
Ranieri—6.5: Made an absolute highlight-reel sliding tackle in the box to take the ball and send the man ass over teakettle. Seemed a bit more comfortable in this centerback role, although his positioning remains a bit ragged at times, probably due to his unfamiliarity with the job. Ready at least for a loan to a Serie A relegation struggler.
Terzić—5.5: Whipped in a couple of good crosses and showed good energy to get forward even in the wet-wool-blanket heat of Charlotte, but showed some defensive issues similar to the ones we saw against Chivas. May be closer to ready than we expect if he can clean those up a bit, though.
Castrovilli—6: Much like on Tuesday, looked decent on the ball but didn’t get enough touches. Found space and showed off a few nice touches and turns; perhaps it’s not fair to demand him to run the game against Arsenal (albeit against a bunch of youth players), but that’s what we were hoping to see. May need one more year before he’s really ready.
Cristoforo—6: Played a very Cristoforo game, full of rugged challenges, frustrated opposing midfielders, the occasional decent switch of play, and a bit of clumsiness in possession. He’s limited but useful.
Benassi—4.5: Aside from a blistering shot in the early second half, the captain was completely invisible. Didn’t offer himself as a passing option as much as he did against Chivas. Some of that is because he played exclusively on the left wing, with Saponara dropping deeper, but he didn’t really offer anything going forward and was average in defense.
Saponara—5.5: A very Cheese game. Hit some beautiful passes through the lines and occasionally threatened to take control of the match with his passing, but also lost the ball too easily at times when a simple pass backwards or one less touch could have kept it moving. Sometimes dropped in as the deepest midfielder, which was interesting.
Vlahović—5: Caused no end of trouble to the Arsenal defenders and twice came very close to scoring. That’s the thing, though. At a certain point, your forward need to score, and he hasn’t managed to do that yet, even when presented with pretty good opportunities. Highlights how badly the Viola need a top finisher.
Sottil—7: Showed some neat close control and made a couple of excellent runs through the defense that caused some real discomfort for Unai Emery’s men. Starting to look like a pretty solid bench option, especially since he’s a decent passer, too.
Terracciano—4.5: Not at fault on either goal, but his decision to come out and punch away a high ball from about a meter outside his own box was indefensible, and he parried a Lacazzette shot (it was powerfully hit but right at him) straight into the path of an onrushing attacker in another questionable piece of play. Not exactly the steady, veteran presence we wanted.
Żurkowski—5: Drove forward well a couple of times through the lines and dug in well on defense, but still doesn’t seem to be on the same page as his teammates yet. You can tell there’s a pretty good player in there, though.
Milenković—5: This was the Mountain’s first appearance for the Viola this year after taking some time off after his U21 Euro duties, and he looked a bit rusty and maybe half a step slow. He should be back up to speed pretty soon though, so no worries here.
Hancko—6: Showed off some vision and passing but wasn’t as sturdy defensively as you might have liked. Good reminder that he’s still very young and will improve.
Báez—3: Might have touched the ball at some point, but I surely can’t recall seeing him.
Simeone—5: Buzzed around without offering much threat to the defense, aside from misplaying a glorious pass in from Hancko. Also looks very weird without any product in his hair.
Eysseric—5: You know what to expect from Val by now, right? Well, this was exactly it.
Beloko—4: Shoehorned in at rightback and looked exactly like what he is, which is a teenager playing an unfamiliar position against more experienced attackers. He wasn’t good, but that’s not wholly on him, so he gets a pass.
Hristov—4.5: Missed a couple of tackles and doesn’t seem to have a lot of foot speed, although he’s as big and strong as you could ask for.
Lakti—n/a: Didn’t really do anything or touch the ball.
Koffi—n/a: See above.
Three things we learned
- Bryan Dabo is probably on his way out. The Burkinabè didn’t suit up for this one and watched from the stands, which seems a strong indication that he’s being held out in anticipation of a move away. Hopefully this isn’t true, as he’s an excellent squad player who can play a number of roles and is also probably the overall coolest guy on the roster, but we’d betting that the Viola 14 shirt will be available in the coming days.
- Marco Benassi isn’t a winger. While the idea to field Benassi in central midfield but actually have him work as a winger making runs in behind was initially rather clever, it doesn’t work if there’s nobody who can find those runs. Benassi, while game as a terrier, doesn’t have the skillset to beat his man down the wing, so that pretty well shuts off a third of the pitch for the Viola attack unless he’s getting a lot of help. When that doesn’t happen (e.g. in this game), he doesn’t really bring anything to the table.
- The ICC doesn’t really matter. It’s not just sour grapes here. It’s more that you can’t really evaluate players in a preseason game that’s played in the equivalent of a pot of boiling stew. Between the heat, the humidity, and the lack of motivation to really go all out, it’s good to remember that the International Champions Cup is an opportunity for teams and stadiums and other shady operators to make a quick buck, but not really worth watching in footballing terms.