HIBERNIAN 2-1 ARSENAL: Emile Smith Rowe scored a second-half consolation for the Gunners, but Mikel Arteta’s men kicked off their 2021-22 pre-season with an embarrassing defeat at Easter Road
Arsenal began pre-season with a disappointing 2-1 defeat against Hibernian at Easter Road.
Mikel Arteta’s men, without their Euro 2020 stars, fell to a surprise loss in Edinburgh, as they kicked off their 2021-22 campaign.
The Spaniard’s side should have taken an early lead, only for Eddie Nketiah, starting alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to fire wide when clean through on goal.
Reiss Nelson went close after 20 minutes, before the home side opened the scoring; Cedric Soares’ back pass bounced high, goalkeeper Arthur Okoronko completely missed his kick, and Martin Boyle tapped into an empty net.
Hibs doubled their lead in the 70th minute, taking advantage of some awful defending at a set-piece, as Daniel Mackay headed home.
Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey linked up moments later to win a penalty – Partey’s clever clipped pass searching for Pepe in behind, only for him to go down under a tug – only for the Ivorian’s tame effort to be saved.
Emile Smith Rowe did net shortly after, following a sweeping move down the right, but it was too little too late as the Gunners suffered defeat. Here are five things you may have missed from the encounter…
Deja vu for Maitland-Niles
It feels like we’ve been here before.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, desperate to make career for himself in Arsenal ’s first-team in his preferred midfield role, gets an opportunity to play there early in pre-season.
Last year, as the Gunners built up for post-lockdown fixtures and the resumption of the 2019-20 season, he was given such a chance – but ultimately, it led to little in the way of real, bona-fide first-team opportunities in that position, with Arteta continually preferring him at full-back or wing-back.
Maitland-Niles joined West Brom in January on loan to play in his preferred position, but, while Sam Allardyce was happy with his performances, he couldn’t stop the Baggies from being relegated.
Now he’s back being offered another chance by Arteta but the feeling remains that if Maitland-Niles wants to play there on a regular basis long-term, then he needs a permanent move away.
Teenager Okonkwo would probably have been hoping for an afternoon at Easter Road where he went under the radar.
It tends to be what most goalkeepers want.
Unfortunately for the 19-year-old, his 45 minutes will be remembered for his awful error that handed Hibs the lead.
Cedric’s backless did him few favours; it was high, bouncing, awkward. But Okonkwo should have been able to clear his lines.
Instead he fluffed it, failing to make contact with his kick, and allowing Boyle to tap into an empty net.
Arteta’s fury at corner failure
It’s early pre-season, but don’t let that stop you thinking that Mikel Arteta won’t show his annoyance.
When Daniel Mackay was left all alone to nod home a free header after some utterly dismal marking at a second-half set-piece, the Spaniard vented his fury towards those around him.
He was far from happy at seeing a number of players lose their men – and you can bet he’ll have had a few choice words for them post-game.
In truth, Nicolas Pepe was probably Arsenal’s best attacking player of all those that appeared.
The record signing was inventive, made good passes, tried to beat people, and showed moments of quality.
He also won a penalty – did he go down to easily? perhaps – which he then stepped up to take himself.
Unfortunately, his tame effort was easily saved.
Joe Willock’s future has been the source of much debate following his outstanding loan spell at Newcastle United.
The expectation in recent weeks has been that he would be handed a chance to impress by Arteta in the coming weeks – particularly with Arsenal a little short in midfield right now.
Instead, he played no part at Easter Road, and amid fresh reports of renewed talks with Newcastle over a switch, his absence is only going to heighten the speculation over his future.