Youngsters Rescue Arsenal As Far East Tour Starts With Victory
Arsenal were certainly not at their sharpest in the first of three matches on the Far East tour. Yet the Gunners managed to overturn a one goal deficit in the final four minutes to beat Malaysia XI 2-1 in Kuala Lumpur.
There were a number of factors that made the display hard to judge – the poor state of the pitch, the high temperature and equally high humidity levels and the fact this was the first game of our pre-season preparation. However, there were some observations worth noting.
In central defense, Vermaelen and Djourou looked assured in the first half except for one moment on indecision where Vermaelen allowed a Malaysian player to simply run across him and receive the ball inside the penalty area. Malaysia’s opener was more a result of poor closing down by Coquelin and Arteta. And poor judgement from Mannone too, who probably thought the shot was drifting wide as he didn’t even attempt a save. In the second half, neither Kyle Bartley nor Craig Eastmond (who played as a centre-back) looked very convincing but managed to stifle Malaysian attacks nonetheless.
At left-back, Kieran Gibbs looked sharp in the first half while Carl Jenkinson performed adequately at right-back without contributing too much going forward. Their second half replacements, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris assisted a late goal each in the second half – even though Yennaris lost the ball far too easily down the right at times.
In midfield, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin all looked leggy in the first half. The pitch did not help, looking like it had been laid the night before. The players seemed conscious of not picking up an injury and the midfield played with the Wengerial hand brake on. Midway though the first half, Arsenal fans everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief when Abou Diaby emerged unscathed after going down under a hefty challenge at the edge of the Malaysian penalty box. It’s another 45 minutes of football without incident for the Frenchman, as he takes baby steps in trying to get a consistent level of fitness.
In the second half, Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain, Chuks Aneke and Alex Song took over the reins in midfield. Song looked lively and full of energy and while not all of his long balls found the mark, he displayed good urgency on the ball under pressure from some commendable Malaysian pressing. Even so, it was the Cameroonian’s through ball to the right-back that resulted in the first goal. The Ox too made some charging runs and created a couple of good opportunities for himself. Crucially, he played through the middle and not on the flank – an indication of things to come? And Aneke netted the winning goal of course and looked energetic throughout the second half as Arsenal tried to get back into the game.
Up front, I thought Chamakh worked really hard in the first half and displayed some good touches. He had a chance saved by the goalkeeper and laid one up for Santos. The Brazilian played as a left winger in a three-man attack but alternated with Gervinho on occasions, who played on the right-wing. At the best of times, Andre looks like he’s had one pie too many and that was very much the case in yesterday’s game – he’ll need a bit more game time to regain his match fitness. Gervinho played on the left, got into good positions but was disappointing with his final ball – no change there then.
In the second half, Ryo Miyaichi and Theo Walcott played either side of Benik Afobe. Ryo looked a little short of fitness too – perhaps the combination of stifling heat and uneven pitch restricted his forward runs. Afobe looked assured and continues to develop solidly, although I think he’ll need another loan spell before he can challenge for a first team place. Walcott wasn’t very influential though and was fairly subdued for most of the 35 minutes he played.
His replacement Thomas Eisfeld was lively in the 10 minutes he was on the pitch. The German popped up in the right place and brilliantly sorted out his feet to score Arsenal’s equalizer after good work by Yennaris down the right. Miyaichi and Oxlade-Chamberlain may grab the headlines but I am quietly optimistic for this German’s lads future. He might struggle to get into the team for the league games but the youngster should feature prominently in Arsenal’s cup campaigns.
The team looked understandably rusty but they will only get better. Overall, it was a good workout for everyone involved. A victory flattered us no doubt. Nevertheless a winning start is always welcome and it will do the confidence of younger players no harm at all.
It’s Manchester City next in Beijing in three days time and they will no doubt provide a sterner test than our Malaysian hosts. Friendly or not, a good performance and a positive result will lay down an early marker to our Premier League rivals.