The fake version of real football returned last night as Arsenal stole a 2-1 win at the death over a hard working Malaysian outfit.
It never looks good when you’re bossed about by a lesser team from a less experienced footballing culture (I mean that with absolutely no disrespect), but Arsenal were outplayed for much of their first 90-minute friendly together against a team of players just coming to the end of their domestic season.
Getting our excuses out early, we were playing on an absolute paddock of a surface in humid conditions, in front of a raucous crowd determined to have a good time. I say determined because the eyesore of Arsenal playing in purple was bad enough, until I saw those truly horrendous red names and numbers on the back of the shirts. Did anyone see those coming? My TV had almost as tough a time as handling the bright orange of the Netherlands in the World Cup final in HD. Geurgh.
So what you had was Arsenal players trying to find their rhythm in a match context for the first time, wearing unbecoming, unfamiliar colours against a team that was mentally fresher. And early on we made a good fist of it, with Gervinho rampaging down the left encouragingly and Arteta pulling the strings from midfield.
Marouane Chamakh had a chance in the box, put through down the right channel, but his volley was hit straight at the keeper who closed off the angle. Andre Santos, playing a roving forward role in the front three (a sign of things to come?) criminally missed two chances when put clean through. It really should have been 2-0 after half an hour.
Malaysia then snapped into gear and started pelting Vito Mannone with shots from the edge of the box. The young Italian, who looks set to move away from the club soon, dealt with them all reasonably well. That was until Asmi Muslim, who the ESPN commentators couldn’t praise enough, stepped up to smash an exocet past the ‘keeper to stun the crowd into celebration.
It was quite a sight seeing all the fans, decked out in splendid red and white Arsenal gear, celebrating a goal scored by the opponents. But their country had just scored against friggin’ Arsenal, so no-one’s blaming them.
It was a stunning finish, but new assistant coach Steve Bould will be hammering into the defence for giving the player so much room and time to get his shot away.
In fact, why Arsenal chose to sit off Malaysia throughout the match is a question worth asking. I know the team still needs to gel and fitness isn’t totally up to scratch yet, but there wasn’t much intent shown in large passages throughout the game.
Another problem cropped up which has frustrated Arsenal fans for a few seasons now, and that’s the inability of Arsenal to shut down the opponent’s wing play, or match it with our own attacking intent. Even ‘lowly’ Malaysia, out-playing us for the most part, got their wingers wide, and got them in quick, to cause us problems down both flanks.
Our wingers, including ‘I only want trophies’ Walcott, cut inside constantly, and ran into bodies in the congested middle. With the mooted signing of Santi Cazorla, I’m hoping this is an area that could finally be improved upon.
The match played out in a mostly frustrating manner, with forward Benik Afobe missing out on a string of chances, hitting the bar early in the second half before coming up second best to the Malaysian keeper on two other occasions.
Then on 87 minutes, a great pass from Song (who had a few bad attempts before) released young Nico Yennaris down the right, who did well to beat his man and lay it up for German Thomas Eisfeld to fire home across the keeper.
It was a great run from the right back and an equally adept finish, making for a good memory for both the youngsters involved.
Two minutes later, Arsenal had stolen the win when a fantastic run from defender Miquel bamboozled the home defence as he enjoyed a fantastic exchange of passes with Chuks Aneke. The last pass found Aneke in space outside the box, as he fired a shot against a defender’s trailing leg to wrong-foot the goalkeeper.
It was a nice showing for the home fans, who got to enjoy a sweet Malaysian goal before a cheeky Arsenal comeback. If everyone’s honest, we’re all happy.
A few observations: Coquelin looked a good physical presence in midfield and every time you see him, there seems to be something to be encouraged about. Jenkinson looked okay at right back, as did Ryo Miyaichi on the left wing when he came on.
Centre-back Kyle Bartley looked imposing but also defensively naive, while Aneke looked quite nervy throughout before getting his goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also sparkled intermittently, including a great dribble through the middle before unleashing a shot from the wide angle.
One thing is clear, Eastmond is not a centre-back, and I’m 99% convinced he’s not much of an Arsenal player either. More promisingly, Eisfeld looks a genuinely ice-cold customer and we’ll all have our eyes on him when the League Cup comes around.
Throughout the season proper I’ll be doing my player ratings like I did in my Third-Gen days but there’s no real point in analysing this match more than I have. Some might fret about how generally awful we were against an inferior outfit, but this is the state of modern football. In years gone by, preseason friendlies were for the local fans’ eyes only, and very rarely would you see one on TV. Now we’re all hooked to a 24/7 football news culture, and we want every bit of Arsenal goodness (or otherwise) we can get. So we see the good stuff we were used to seeing in the league and cups, but also the ugly, stilted side of things in friendlies. A warts and all serving.
So not the best performance you’ll ever see. Like Wenger says, it’s a workout and a chance to connect to the Asian fan-base.
We played two sides and I felt both did well. The first half was played at a high pace and overall it was a good workout for us against a good Malaysian team. My friend does a good job here because every year they play faster, quicker and stronger. We had to be patient to win the game. But the result was less important than the workout.
I think we got the quality of the game we wanted and that is very positive. We got through it without any injuries and it was a good game.
And that’s that, really. Arsenal next plays the scum of the earth on Friday in Beijing. I have some friends on the ground who I’m hoping will give me a decent account of the match, the atmosphere and the fans.
With any luck, we might have a certain Spanish winger added to our ranks as well. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.