Posted on The Arsenal Review
Arsenal laid on the goals in the first day of the Emirates Cup, with Portuguese champions Benfica hit for five.
The last time Benfica played in this warm-up competition, Yaya Sanogo blitzed them with four goals as Arsenal ran out 5-1 winners. This was a similar story – but without the inspired underdog story of the now departed French striker.
This pre-season tournament is the next step on the way to being fully prepared for the coming season, and the tempo this game was played in suggested Arsene Wenger made sure his troops were fully aware of the need to put their all into this performance.
The opponents too, played in a gear not familiar with a friendly match, and although they were not victorious, Rui Vitoria will be pleased they managed such a vigorous exercise.
This game saw the debut of our new, blue, away kit. Not to everyone’s taste, at least it was clearly visible on the pristine Emirates pitch. Arsene Wenger went for an experimental lineup – if he cannot do it in a friendly game, then when can he? – but it was not to hold the Gunners back.
David Ospina took the gloves, and again the 3-5-2 formation was implemented. Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Sead Kolasinac were the men who formed the backline, and in the all-important wing-back spots were two of our youngsters – Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson.
Midfield was comprised of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, with Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi just behind lone striker Olivier Giroud.
The equilibrium may not have quite set on the team, but at times, the click that all managers seek was on display. Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott were always on the front foot and took the game to Benfica defenders Luisao and Eliseu, but it was another who took the plaudits.
Young Reiss Nelson grabbed everyone’s attention on the pre-season tour in Asia, with his no fear approach which cut out chances and he really made things happen. This match though, was like a personal highlights reel for the 17 year old. Full of industry, Nelson never wasted a ball, and his close control at times overshadowed his more experienced and illustrious teammates.
However, it was Benfica who took the lead.
The Portuguese champions had made the early running, and Cervi took a shot which deflected off of Mertesacker. The ball diverted in direction enough to deceive Ospina, and the home side were a goal down.
Only for 13 minutes though.
Sead Kolasinac was making his Emirates bow, and he did enough to show home fans that he will have a positive impact. It was down to the Bosnian defender that Arsenal grabbed the equaliser, not giving up on a lost cause, keeping the ball in play and crossing for Theo Walcott, who volleyed into the net from inside the box.
Eight minutes later, the Gunners had the lead. It was Kolasinac again who was involved, this time he linked up well with Coquelin, who squared for an ominously lurking Walcott to finish easily.
The first half still had legs though, and a defensive lapse saw Benfica pull the score back to 2-2.
Xhaka and Elneny – a first half replacement for the injured Coquelin – were nowhere to be seen as the away team launched an attack. It was left to Mertesacker to show initiative. The German’s last-ditch tackle nearly worked, but the ball fell kindly for Salvio, and another deflection put paid to Ospina’s attempt to save.
The second half was a much more complete display from Arsenal. We held off Benfica’s intermittent attacks with relative ease, and it was only eight minutes until we regained the lead.
It was Theo Walcott again, his cross-cum-shot was put into his own net by Lisandro Lopez, and it was the least we deserved. Theo could have clinched his hat-trick seconds later, but after Giroud laid off the ball well, Walcott could only smack the ball well over.
Soon enough, it was four for Arsenal. This was all Reiss Nelson. The youngster flicked the ball to make room for a effervescent cross which Giroud diverted past the Benfica goalkeeper Julio Cesar with an outstretched boot.
Then it was five. Giroud used his body well to make room for Iwobi who absolutely pummelled the ball into the net.
Game over, and then, the raft of subs came which took the speed out of the match.
The Ox came on for the impressive Nelson, Lacazette replaced Walcott, Nacho swapped with Maitland-Niles, Mesut Ozil was on for Alex Iwobi and Ramsey took to the field for Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal saw out the game comfortably, and they can look back on a display which shows they are slowly improving their sharpness and pace. Not only that, but the fans were given a great show to whet the appetite for the coming campaign.
Let us not forget the class of opposition too. Benfica had their part to play for this hectic game, but they couldn’t handle the sharp interchanges in and around the box.
Next up is Sevilla, who defeated RB Leipzig 1-0. It’ll be another tough fixture against a pedigree foe, but there are still players who haven’t featured, so the lineup will be vastly different – as inferred by Wenger in his Press Conference before the tournament began.
So while the talk continues to centre on Alexis Sanchez and his future, Gooners can at least find solace in the fact that Arsenal are firing.