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Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool – Match Review

Arsenal failed to turn up in the first half and blew Liverpool away in a devastating second half spell, but had to make do with a share of the points in a whirlwind game at The Emirates.

Arsenal wenger again opted for four at the back and a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi getting nods to start. The changes didn’t have much of an effect though, as Liverpool edged into the game.

The first ten minutes we played with a good intensity, but our moves broke down and we gave Liverpool the initiative they needed to get into the game. Philippe Coutinho started a counter in his own half and continued his run, closely marshalled by Jack Wilshere. The delivery into the box got a crucial deflection, sending the ball skywards and Coutinho got his head on the ball to float it over Petr Cech and into the far corner.

Liverpool were in the ascendancy, as they were catching us cold repeatedly. Mo Salah was looking every inch the dangerman, and Cech pulled off some impressive saves to keep the Egyptian at bay.

Liverpool kept coming, and it was a real wonder how the away side were not stretching their lead, but some basic mistakes in their passing and some good work by Bellerin and Maitland-Niles were keeping the space to a minimum at crucial times.

The Reds were still creating chances quite easily though. We weren’t able to escape the high press, and the pressure was building. 

On the 44th minute, Liverpool missed out on doubling their lead, Salah denied by a wonderful low save from Cech, and Mane acrobatically missing the rebound chance.

The referee’s whistle couldn’t come quickly enough, and the second half had to bring improvement.

It would take a while though.

Before that, Liverpool went two up, as the pattern of the first half continued. Mo Salah got his goal, with a low shot that got a crucial clip off of second half sub Shkodran Mustafi’s leg, sending it just out of the grasp of Petr Cech.

2-0 down, at home, and looking as limp as Donald Trump’s hair. This could have gotten ugly.

Instead, the response was quite terrific.

Within a minute, we had woken up. This is something I’ve gotten used to as a Gooner, seemingly unable to kick into the high gears we’re capable of unless we’re under duress. This was duress indeed, but Hector Bellerin swung in a marvellous cross to the back stick, where Joe Gomez had switched off and let Alexis steal in and plant a header into the net.

The fires were lit, and the crowd could sense a shift. So could the players, as two minutes later, we were level from nowhere.

Granit Xhaka, always implored to shoot by the Gooner faithful, actually did so, and from 25 yards, his shot had plenty of fizz, but Mignolet should’ve parried it over, instead, he let the pace deceive him and the ball smashed into the net.

2-2 and we were on the crest of a big wave. This was a role reversal, Liverpool couldn’t cope with our forward impetus, and Jack, Mesut and Alexis were in their element.

Two minutes later, we were ahead, and it was a beautiful goal. Mesut carried it forward, and played it into the willing Lacazette, who had his back to goal. He held it and Ozil carried his run on. Lacazette scooped the ball behind him and the ball found the German, who finished sublimely.

Where had this come from? This was the Arsenal who had destroyed tottenham and should have destroyed United, this was the Gunners team that most of our opponents can’t deal with.

We didn’t stop there, and we continued to knock on the door, but the two goal advantage didn’t come. We would pay for it too.

It is strange to feel slightly disappointed with a draw after being two goals down, but Roberto Firmino’s 70th minute goal should have been stopped. He received the pass just inside the box and central, but he had space. His markers were nowhere to be found, and he took full advantage, his finish intending to go over Cech, but the keeper got a hand to it, but not enough to keep the ball looping in.

The rest of the game was the perfect advertisement for the craziness of this competition. One attack at one end was swiftly followed by another at the other end. Both teams could have won it, but the game saw no more goals and ended all square.

Wenger has still been unable to beat Klopp in five meetings, but this game could have been so much worse. We showed great resilience in getting back into the game, and our attack spluttered into life, at least for five minutes.

Onwards and upwards, we go to Selhurst Park next week, with three points much needed to close the gap on the top 4. 

Arsenal 2-0 tottenham – What Power Shift?

What power shift?

Much of the talk before this game kicked off was centred on how tottenham were now the rulers of North London, but a powerhouse Arsenal performance served a reminder to our neighbours that one season of finishing above us after 21 of being in our shadow doesn’t constitute a shift in power.

Our side were far superior to spurs in every position during the 90, and Pochettino lost his first derby in the process. Wenger went for Lacazette to start alongside Alexis and Ozil in a front three and this attacking trio was key in how we put spurs to the sword. The attacking three were full of intent and running, tracking back and pressing and some really lovely touches.

It was our midfield that really had a point to prove though, and they gave everything to the cause. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka left it all on the pitch and strangled the life out of their spurs counterparts, Dembele and Sissokho. At both ends of the pitch, our engine room were on the pulse.

Shkodran Mustafi passed a recent fitness test to earn a recall to the side, and the German repelled everything spurs could muster, which wasn’t much. From the opening exchanges, we bossed every area of the pitch and Petr Cech was pretty much untroubled aside from a squirming Eriksen low shot that struck the outside of the near post.

This game didn’t feel like one of those games where we have untold amounts of possession and chances, only to flounder. It was our intensity that was troubling spurs, and they couldn’t keep up.

The deadlock was broken on the 36th minute. Alexis was found, being marked tightly by Davidson Sanchez. The Chilean headed past the spurs man and the defender put his arm across Alexis before having a slight tug of his Arsenal jersey. Mike Dean, rather surprisingly, gave us the decision and from the resulting set-piece, a perfect delivery from Mesut Ozil was met by Mustafi, who jumped higher than anyone to float a wonderful header past Lloris.

We didn’t have to wait long for the second and for our dominance to come to fruition. Alexandre Lacazette was actually given the ball in the channel with space to run into for once, and the Frenchman ate up the yards before finding Alexis with a low square pass. Alexis had plenty to do, but a great first touch allowed him to squeeze a high shot into the net and give Lloris no chance.

Half time came and went and although spurs were afforded more possession, the script was very much the same. Cech was still just as untroubled, we still had our boot firmly on spurs’ neck. Subs came and went around the 60-70th minute, but it changed nothing. No matter what Pochettino tried, our men on the field had the answers.

It was so refreshing to see us reach what is near our capabilities. So often we are bested thanks to our own inefficiencies, but not this time. For the whole game, we were at it all over the pitch. All of our players were on form and wanted this win – if we had failed to win this then a big gap would have been the result, even at this early stage of the season.

We weren’t finished either. Alexis could have grabbed another, and Alex Iwobi shot wide from a good position, sandwiching an Eric Dier header that produced a fingertip save from Cech – and that was the nearest that spurs were to come to registering a goal.

With this sort of display, frustration as well as joy can spring forth. Why can’t we do this more often? If we could do this for even 20 out of the 38 games, then we would be unstoppable. If we think like this though, we will never enjoy any moment. We know what we can do, all we can do though, is hope.

Spurs were bested, we pressed better than they did, we attacked quicker, we defended stouter. Their fans needed a reminder of where they actually stand in football after getting ahead of themselves recently.

We also needed a reminder. We needed to see our team show that not only can we produce displays of this nature still, but we can still want it more than our opponents.

Well played Arsenal – this was so good to see. #UTA

Man City 3-1 Arsenal – A Tough Lesson

Manchester City played out a tough lesson to Arsenal as they took the points in an entertaining Premier League clash.

Pep Guardiola’s men played with real purpose and looked dangerous on the ball, but it was their press that strangled the life out of their opponents and set up a stable foundation for victory.

Arsene Wenger opted for stability in his lineup. A surprise call was to drop Alexandre Lacazette and name Alexis in the sole striker spot, with three men in midfield. Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka had the task of quelling the runs of DeBruyne, Silva and Sane, but the gamble was to backfire.

The first minutes were pretty well balanced as both came close to opening the scoring, only for the final ball to let each of them down. It didn’t take long for City to hit top gear though.

The 19th minute to be precise.

DeBruyne’s shot from outside the box was well saved by cech but the ball eventually found the Belgian again and he arrowed in a low shot into the far corner to give the home side the lead.

City were unrelenting and refused to let us into the game. We were battling hard, but Coquelin seemed to be dropping into defence and wires were being crossed. We were winning the ball but we were unable to retain it in the final third. Every time we attacked, City would hound us and then break at speed.

City broke through on three or four occasions, but a combination of desperate defending, some unfound passes across the box and Petr Cech kept the scoreline at 1-0.

Raheem Sterling came closest to doubling the score, but instead of shooting in a great position, he opted to pass and missed his intended teammate. Then, we had a chance to level at the best time, just before the interval.

Aaron Ramsey was found in the box. He checked back and hammered a shot but Ederson parried it away. The whistle blew and we went into the break a goal down and bewildered at our opponent’s strength.

We were battling well and were competitive, but the gap between where we want to be and where we actually are was exposed by brutal City. It took only five minutes for City to get their second goal. Raheem Sterling got the right side of Nacho Monreal and both were running into the box, shoulder to shoulder. Sterling went down easily, but in this present day version of our game, these decisions are being given and Michael Oliver didn’t hesitate to award the spot-kick. Sergio Aguero stepped up and scored, 2-0.

Wenger made an early change. On the 55th minute he hooked Coquelin. The decision to stifle City had not worked, so Lacazette came on in his stead. Back to our favoured formation, and we started to work a lot better.

Ten minutes later, we had a lifeline. Aaron Ramsey found Lacazette and the Frenchman ran onto the ball and fired through Ederson’s legs.

Game on.

The match went one way and the next, with promising situations for both teams ending prematurely. It could’ve gone either way, but City always looked a little sharper, a little more capable than we did in attack.

It showed, as substitute Gabriel Jesus took advantage of a poor offside decision to slot home from close range. Replays suggested that both DeBruyne and Jesus were offside, but there was no flag and they reestablished their two goal cushion.

From there, we made subs and huffed and puffed, but in truth, City ran out deserved winners. It is a sad indictment of our side that we were outplayed in the style we used to be the best at. Now, we must concentrate on top4 and cup runs because on this evidence, we are miles away from being the best.

City were quicker and made better decisions. We are not a million miles away but we are not where we should be.

After this game there can be no doubt about that.

Everton 2-5 Arsenal – the return of our style.

Arsenal finally found the swagger that has been missing, as they hammered 5 past Everton – and gained their first away Premier League win in the process.

An avalanche of shots on target points to a convincing victory, but a spirited Toffee’s side gave a good account of themselves – they just couldn’t find an answer to our attacking play.

Much of this was down to our preferred attacking three playing together for once. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette linked up fluidly, and the ninety minutes was packed with flicks and touches that intuitively found each other. It was the basis on which we scored our goals, and also what bamboozled Everton.

The first ten minutes we bombarded Everton keeper Jordan Pickford and we should have taken the lead, so it was scripted that Everton would instead grab the first goal.

Granit Xhaka was slow in offloading the ball and was fouled by Idrissa Gueye. Referee Craig Pawson waved play on and the ball found Wayne Rooney whose shot from 25 yards hit the back of the net.

We had played so well only to succumb to a sucker punch, but for once, it didn’t affect us. We continued to press though and it was only Jordan Pickford and wasteful finishing that was stopping us rack up a cricket score, never mind equalise.

As such, it was a surprise that it took until the 40th minute for us to restore parity. A Xhaka shot was only parried by Pickford, and the loose ball was snaffled up by a marauding Nacho Monreal who hit it first time.

Everton had racked up a couple of yellow cards, and the second half saw one of their booked players swapped out during the break. Ashley Williams was cut and Tom Davies came on, Ronald Koeman opting to change shape to combat Arsenal’s rampaging trio up top.

It didn’t work.

Eight minutes after the second half began, we got what our play deserved. Alexis hung onto the ball wide on the left, and he waited for the perfect moment to cross the ball into the box. He had waited for the impeccably timed run of Mesut Ozil. The German flicked a header past Pickford expertly and we had the lead.

Our job was made infinitely easier after Idrissa Gueye was sent off for a second yellow. His lunge took the wind from Everton’s sails and for once – perhaps the most welcome sight of all – we took full advantage. No mercy was shown.

Alexandre Lacazette made it three, twenty minutes after Ozil’s goal. Alexis passed well to Ozil, who took it forward before finding Lacazette in the box. A first time finish gave him his first away goal and the breathing space we needed.

Jack Wilshere got some action, and he immediately made his presence felt. Finding Aaron Ramsey with a great pass, Rambo then took it well before finishing coolly.

Everton took advantage of a lax touch from Cech to score a second, but we would get the last laugh. Alexis deserved a goal for his endeavours, and he exquisitely found the far corner.

The front three of Lacazette, Ozil and Alexis give us a reason to be cheerful. Even in the toughest of games, this trio will eke out chances. We have hope.

Of course there are still reasons for worry. Our central midfield is not clicking and our defence has a tendency to switch off, but for once, let us enjoy this handsome win.

It is the reason we are all supporters. For games when we play well, we win well and we score a bagful.

Arsenal 3-1 FC Koln – Away Fans, Howlers and Alexis is Back

An hours delay is not the best start to a game in a competition most deride as superfluous. 

Someone said that to David Ospina, and the Colombian decided he would try and beat it.

Thanks to masses of Koln fans making the trip to London without a ticket and trying to cram into the Clock End – and succeeding to a degree – it meant that safety was compromised and kickoff could not take place until 2105hrs – over an hour after it was designated.

Still, when our fans did all manage to take their seats, they were treated to the sight of our goalkeeper going a little unhinged and allowing the equally crazed Koln fans the opportunity to make more noise and set off more flares.

Our Cup Keeper raced out of his box to snaffle up a ball over the top of our defence. The problem wans’t that he didn’t get to it first. Oh no, Ospina was the proverbial greyhound. No, the problem was what he did when he got the ball.

The South American goalkeeper booted it flatly and straight to the opposition, and Ospina’s fellow countryman Cordoba lifted it over our keeper who was in No Man”s Land from all of 40 yards. 

1-0, and the first half was now a chase.

We did make chances when we were not busy wasting the opportunity for a final ball, but Koln’s Timo Horn was equal to Olivier Giroud’s header, and Theo Walcott wasted a good chance when found in a good position.

The first half was frustrating, and the boos that followed our players trudging off the pitch were born from a performance that was quite flat at times.

The second half was different though. With a much changed side, we began to find our verve, and it took five minutes to get the equaliser. 

Theo Walcott was at the centre of the action, and his finishing may have been wayward, but his positioning and running could not be faulted. He was found with a superb ball from Mohamed Elneny, and his touch took him wide. His cross was deflected upwards, and the rampaging bull that is Sead Kolasinac took just one touch to lash a volley past the Koln keeper Timo Horn.

From there, it was all Arsenal, and we were looking fully intent on getting the win, as opposed to the first half when there was just vague interest. 

Then, there was a sight to behold for all Gooners to rejoice in. Something that has the potential to change our season dramatically.

It wasn’t Jack Wilshere making an appearance, although he could make a huge dent.

It was the return of Alexis.

Sure, he has made appearances this season, but the goal he scored in this game was pure Chilean spice.

Taking the ball from out wide, he drifted inside, beat two players and from 25 yards, curled an exquisite effort into the top corner, where no goalkeeper’s fingers dare to tread. It was beautiful, it was Alexis.

Whilst he may still want to leave, my love for him will be compromised. However, I say we play him until his legs fall off. Make use of him in the short space of time we have him. 

There was time for one more goal, and it was Hector Bellerin who scored it. Theo Walcott was again involved. Alexis and Big Sead interchanged well, and the Bosnian crossed in. Jack Wilshere dummied it and left it for Theo who took a shot which Horn saved well. The rebound though, fell for the onrushing Bellerin who did manage to beat the German.

A job well done, and the Europa League has been started well. We can really make a go of this competition and it was a big plus that we fought back against a team who were better than their domestic form suggested.

Not only that, our team was massively different than the one we saw last weekend – and very different to the one that will line up against Chelsea this Sunday. 

The way we deal with the short recovery time will be crucial, but we have good form against the Blues recently. Time to convert that to a performance away from home for once. 

Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth – PL Review

Arsenal returned to winning ways in comprehensive fashion, thumping Bournemouth by three goals – and it could well have been more.

Caution must be applied to any Gooners who think recovery is now complete, but we can at least find solace in the fact that a win has been achieved, we are again looking threatening – and we have a left sided player on the left once again!

Arsene Wenger chose Sead Kolasinac on the left, and the Bosnian was instrumental in our first half showing, setting up the opener for Welbeck and rampaging on the flank to great effect. Hector Bellerin on the right also showed some signs that his form is on the up.

Our midfield too, kept tabs on the Cherries midfield runner, with Aaron Ramsey often being the deepest of the midfield duo, as Xhaka stretched his limbs with some great passing. It was the Welshman’s discipline though, that was most pleasing. We will need every ounce of that when we play our next Premier League fixture – next weekend at Chelsea.

We were two goals up by half-time. Danny Welbeck, picked ahead of the returning Alexis, nodded us in front early on, a deft header coming from an incisive cross from Kolasinac. 

Chances came and went for us, with Ozil testing Asmir Begovic with a great free-kick, but we would have to wait until around the half hour mark before we made it two. Mesut Ozil was deep once again, and his foraging ball along the turf found Alexandre Lacazette, who passed to Welbeck, who immediately returned the favour. Lacazette teed himself up, before lashing a high finish over Begovic.

Bournemouth were trying, but lax in defence. They did have a good chance though, but Jermain Defoe could only head onto the post. 

We would make them pay for their profligacy.

The second half saw a similar pattern. Arsenal pushing Bournemouth back into their half as we sniffed for goals, and when the Cherries got ideas above their station, we hounded their men until the ball was retrieved. We can still improve our attack, but we did look a far better outfit that in recent weeks. 

Seven minutes after half time, we had our third, as Aaron Ramsey found Welbeck, who finished well into the far post area from an acute angle. 

It could – and possibly should – have been five or six goals, but let us not look a gift horse in the mouth. We played well, we scored a few goals, and we kept a clean sheet. This was exactly what the doctor ordered, and hopefully the confidence is flowing on the eve of a massive London derby next weekend.

Lacazette is looking like the lethal striker who banged in plenty in Ligue Un, Danny Welbeck has already beaten his last season’s total of goals, and our defence is finally settled. With Alexis looking likely to return in the next game, we have plenty to worry the Blues. 

Can the Chilean wonder come straight back into the side with Welbeck playing so well? Will Ozil do what he did to Chelsea last season in our 3-0 win? Can Kolasinac run his own brand of rulie on the left as he has done so far? 
So many questions, but for now, let us just enjoy a tranquil few days after what has been an incredibly turbulent few weeks. It is the calm after the storm, let us all hope we have weathered the worst of it. 

Arsenal 4-3 Leicester City – What a Game! 

What a way to start things off. 

Seven goals, a hatful of chances, shambolic defending and beautiful attacking play. Arsenal are back. 

Upon seeing the teamsheet before the game though, we should have heeded the warning.

Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal and new boy Sead Kolasinac were our back three, and the lack of chemistry was evident, especially when passes were played in between them for the voracious Jamie Vardy to run onto.

Lacazette made his mark first though, his quick reaction was a superb header into the bottom corner from Elneny.

Minutes later though, Leicester drew level. A short corner was eventually played in and Harry Maguire headed the ball back in from the byline. The loose ball was headed in from close range by Okazaki with Petr Cech floundering.

Cech was all at sea and our defence were deliberating who should go with Vardy’s runs. It was painful to watch at times, but our attack was the antithesis of the mess at the back. 

Twenty nine minutes in, the Foxes were a goal up. A wide ball across goal and Vardy had stolen a yard and finished from close in. 

Our defence should never have let it happen.

Just before halftime though, we had a lifeline. Alexandre Lacazette showed incredible strength to keep possession, and the ball squirmed through to Sead Kolasinac. The Bosnian tank had enough composure to square the ball to Welbeck and he finished calmly.

An excellent time to score and at half time we drew our breath. 2-2.

Eleven minutes and it was joy for Leicester – and Vardy – when they scored again. A corner was fizzed in and Vardy again ghosted past our players to flick in a near-post header. Cech coming out for absolutely nothing, Xhaka guilty of ball watching as Vardy whizzed past him.

With Leicester a goal up and the pressure building on the pitch but no score, Wenger changed things up at his signature time – the 67th minute – with Ramsey and Giroud coming on for Elneny and the beleaguered Holding. It changed our setup, with our team opting for a 4-2-3-1 with Giroud up top and Lacazette out wide.

The Foxes were clawing for purchase as we cranked up the pressure and they held out until the 83rd minute. A great Xhaka pass found Ramsey at the back, and his first touch was artistry. It fell in the perfect place to lash home. 

His fellow sub Giroud will grab the headlines though. His header was the epitome of strength, firstly to hold off Maguire and then the way he arced his neck to put strength on the ball so it went in off the woodwork. Wonderful stuff.

The game petered out after such ridiculous pace, and we grabbed the points. There is much to be done though.

Would a better side see out the game 3-2 up at The Emirates? Can we count ourselves lucky that is was Leicester? Our defence will get stronger obviously. Our three first choice defenders were out of the game and this match would have been markedly different had Mertesacker been playing. Holding would have missed his experience too. 

Cech needs to shape up too, as well as Xhaka who needs to move the ball quicker at times. 

We also need to remember though, that it is the first game of the season. We will improve, but we got the points, which is what matters. 

Let us enjoy the fact the Premiership is back. 

And maybe take a breath. Phew. 

Arsenal Win 2017 Community Shield! 

Published on The Arsenal Review.

Arsenal came from behind to defeat Chelsea on penalties and win the 2017 Community Shield.

Whilst some denounce the Community Shield as nothing more than just another friendly, there are some reasons that unfolded on the pitch to suggest Arsenal can be quietly confident this coming season. 

Arsene Wenger was unable to call on leading lights Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, as well as Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, so his selected eleven was a weaker one than he would have preferred. 

Alex Iwobi came into the team and Danny Welbeck was in the attacking three also. Per Mertesacker came into the team to once again haunt Chelsea, with Mohamed Elneny taking Rambo’s midfield spot.

Antonio Conte had the luxury of a nearly complete squad, with only Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko missing. It meant Chelsea went into the game as favourites, but just like the FA Cup Final – Arsenal paid no heed to their underdog tag.

The Gunners were faster out of the blocks, with Alexandre Lacazette looking in good touch and Hector Bellerin getting forward to great effect.

It would be Lacazette who would have the best chance too, linking up well with Bellerin before curling an effort onto the post with Courtois beaten. 

Before that, Gary Cahill smashed his elbow into the nose of Per Mertesacker, forcing the German off with blood pouring from the wound. On came new boy Sead Kolasinac, and the Bosnian would make a big difference. 

Chelsea did have one opportunity, and one they claimed should have been a penalty. William went down and referee Bobby Maddely booked the Brazilian for simulation. Upon close inspection, it could have gone either way as there was contact, but Willian did make the most of it.

Half time came and went and it was Chelsea who started the better in the second half, and Victor Moses broke the deadlock.

The Nigerian, the villain of the FA Cup Final in May, chested down a header from Cahill and slotted past Cech. 

The Blues started to gain confidence, but the ten minutes of pressure after the goal they exerted came to nothing.

It would cost them dearly.

Granit Xhaka stretched Courtois with a ferocious long range strike, but Gooners had to wait until the 82nd minute for the equaliser their team deserved.

The 80th minute saw Pedro plant his studs on the Achilles of Elneny, and the Spaniard was sent off. The resultant set-piece saw Xhaka float in a tantalising ball which Sead Kolasinac met and he headed into the far corner.

There would be no extra time, so penalties were the order of the day. This would be the first fixture where the order of the takers would switch to the new ‘ABBA’ format. The reason? 60% of the sides who took the first penalty in the old format would win.

So, history was made, and Arsenal again were successful in a shootout, with Thibaut Courtois and Alvaro Morata missing their efforts and Arsenal converting all of theirs.

The Shield was won, and again they had won a trophy with holes in their side. It was the display which pleased most of us though. Tough but swift in attack at times, Arsenal look well equipped for the coming season. 

This may or may not constitute a trophy, but it is definitely a great start. 

Arsenal 1-2 Sevilla – Emirates Cup Review

Published on The Arsenal Review

Arsenal fell to a disappointing loss in their second and final game of the Emirates Cup, but still won the pre-season competition.

Sevilla were game opponents, but Arsene Wenger’s men could only blame themselves after failing to truly stretch the Spanish side.

Wenger opted for a much stronger side than the eleven that smacked five past Benfica the previous day. Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hector Bellerin, Mesut Özil and Alexander Lacazette all came into the side, and hopes were high that another goal-rich display was in the offing.

The moves on the pitch did not match the illustrious names in the team though. Our midfield – with young Jo Willock – was often easily bypassed, and our attacks too often were left wanting a decisive ball.

All of these criticisms can be amended with more match practice, and a percentage of our lackadaisical play can be attributed to the fact that it was a friendly game – so no real cause for alarm.

Still, it’s never nice seeing your side play at half capacity of what they’re capable of, and that was the theme of the match. The first half especially was a timid affair, but if any team had the better of the chances it was Sevilla. Cech was tested a couple of times, but nothing too strenuous – which was in line with the whole game.

Arsenal did eke out a few chances, with Hector Bellerin guilty of a glaring miss on the volley at the back post, but the general feel was that we never got out of second gear, and neither did our opponents. Bellerin was soon to come off though, with Cohen Bramall replacing him.

You could tell it was a pre-season warm-up game, and anyone who witnessed the game can say with some certainty that next week’s Community Shield game versus Chelsea will definitely see much more effort.

The first half petered out, but the second half soon saw a goal – unfortunately it went to Sevilla.

Ben Yedder was a player that was linked to us heavily last year, and it was the former Ligue Un player that made the difference with a great pass to Joaquin Correa, who put it past Cech.

The 60th minute saw the usual tradition of substitutions, but this time we only saw one, with Granit Xhaka coming on for the willing but out of his depth Jo Willock. The youngster has a tidy touch but was overrun in this game. His time will come though.

Only two minutes later, we had an equaliser, and it came from our new boy, Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman made the most of his first home start, as a cross from The Ox left the Sevilla defence all at sea, and Lacazette finished from close range.

A scoring team is always most at risk from conceding soon after, and this was the case again. Seven minutes after Lacazette’s goal, Steven N’Zonzi – he of Blackburn and Stoke at one time – picked the ball up outside the box and finished beautifully over Cech.

There was enough time to find another equaliser, and Arsene Wenger ordered reinforcements to find it, with Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi on for Lacazette and Elneny. The fresh legs did nothing to increase our goal threat though, and there was very little urgency.

The game finished at 2-1 to Sevilla, but Arsenal still won the Emirates Cup thanks to more goals scored than the La Liga side. It means very little, and the first acid test will be against Chelsea for the Community Shield.

All in all, the Emirates Cup provided ample game time for our youngsters and another step towards match sharpness for our first teamers. A worthwhile exercise, as this season demands improvement on the last.

Arsenal 5-2 Benfica – The 2017 Emirates Cup

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.