The preparations for the 2023-24 season began with defeat for Barcelona as the Catalans lost 5-3 to Arsenal in their preseason opener at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Barça took the early lead but struggled physically and had a tough night at the back against Mikel Arteta’s side, who took the game very seriously from the very beggining and won a fun match that never felt like a friendly.
Arsenal are four games into their preseason against a Barça side making their debut, and the difference in fitness and intensity was evident from the very start. The Gunners were much quicker and a lot more competitive out of possession, and the Blaugrana had a lot of trouble dealing with Arsenal’s press throughout the half.
But the Catalans somehow found themselves in front thanks in large part to a brilliant solo effort from Ez Abde, who won the ball inside his own half and carried it all the way through to the other end before finding Raphinha, who forced a great save from Aaron Ramsdale which offered Robert Lewandowski the chance to score an easy tap-in to give Barça the lead.
Arsenal responded quickly with a goal from Bukayo Saka after a poor mistake by Andreas Christensen, and Saka had a golden chance to double his tally after a handball from Ronald Araujo inside the box but missed the penalty badly.
After a wild opening 20 minutes the game lost momentum thanks to a lot of physical play from both sides that led to plenty of fouls and bookings, and there was very little quality from either side. Then Barça scored again thanks to some good fortune when a free-kick by Raphinha deflected off Martin Odegaard and into the net, and the game came to life again.
Arsenal played their best football once more and attacked with quality and intent, and scored a second equalizer when a header by Odegaard found Kai Havertz all alone to tap it home.
A fun and physical game was all square at the half, with plenty of changes expected on Barça’s side at the break.
Mikel Arteta made only one change at halftime while Xavi Hernández brought in a whole new team for the final period, focusing primarily on fitness and giving as many players a chance to get in the game as possible.
Arsenal continued to play very serious football and look for the win, and they took their first lead of the game 10 minutes into the half when a long ball from the back found Leandro Trossard, who ran with purpose at a retreating Jules Kounde and found the bottom corner with an excellent strike.
Barça’s second half team was solid in possession and did a better job getting out of Arsenal’s press, and slowly but surely began looking like a cohesive unit that knew what to do with the ball. Ansu Fati and Alejandro Balde formed an excellent partnership on the left wing full of running and skill, and young midfielder Fermín López impressed with his energy, activity and poise on the ball.
The Blaugrana were the better side for most of the period and could have equalized when Fati found Ousmane Dembélé in great position inside the box, but the Frenchman hit the post and missed a big chance. A few minutes later Trossard scored his second of the night on a counter-attack, and Arsenal’s victory was assured.
Xavi then decided to give La Masia gem Lamine Yamal 10 minutes of action at the end of the game, and the 16-year-old offered a few glimpses of his remarkable talent. Barça continued to attack and look for a way back in the game, and Ferran Torres made it 4-3 with two minutes to go after a great run and assist by Dembélé.
But Fábio Vieira scored a great goal from distance for Arsenal to end any hopes of a Barça comeback, and the final whistle came to end a very entertaining — and sometimes very chippy — preseason contest.
The result doesn’t matter at all, and the difference in fitness levels was pretty clear from the first minute of the game based on where the two teams are in their preparations. A total of 23 players got a chance to break a good sweat for Barça, and while the defending was a disaster it was pretty common for the first game of preseason.
No need to overreact, and El Clásico at the weekend also won’t matter too much. It’s about next June, not this July. And the white uniforms look AMAZING.
Arsenal: Ramsdale; White, Saliba (Kiwior 70’), Gabriel (Holding 84’), Timber (Tierney 70’); Odegaard (Vieira 62’), Partey (Jorginho 70’), Havertz (Smith Rowe 46’); Saka (Cozier-Duberry 84’), Jesus (Nketiah 79’), Trossard (Martinelli 79’)
Goals: Saka (13’), Havertz (43’), Trossard (56’, 78’), Vieira (90’)
Barcelona 1H: Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Christensen, Alonso; Pedri, Romeu, Gundogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Abde
Barcelona 2H: Peña; Roberto, Kounde, Eric, Balde; López (Yamal 79’), De Jong, Kessie; Dembélé, Ferran, Fati
Goals: Lewandowski (7’), Raphinha (34’), Ferran (88’)