by Mosope Ominiyi
Arsenal were up against fellow Premier League side Everton, with the Barclays Asia Trophy up for grabs – whoever prevailed today would take the pre-season crown with the league campaign not too far away now.
Neither side was taking the competition lightly. This brought a refreshing change as, in recent years, plenty of scrutiny has been placed upon pre-season tournaments with teams not fielding their best players for all to admire and enjoy.
Petr Čech made his first-team debut for the Gunners, which was met by a warm round of applause reverberating around the stadium.
Héctor Bellerín, who has signed a long-term contract with the club, was amongst the established starters for Arsène Wenger’s side, which boasted the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud too.
Roberto Martinez left a few first-team players on the bench; Tim Howard, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku. Despite this, the Spaniard still put out a competitive starting line-up.
John Stones, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Gerard Deulofeu and Steven Naismith were in the starting eleven; it was clear that the Toffees were not playing for fun, they wanted to win.
After a few half-chances for either side, it was Arsenal who found themselves a goal up. A perfectly weighted through ball by Santi Cazorla split the Everton backline in two, and Theo Walcott was quickest to latch onto the pass as he instinctively slammed home past Joel Robles in the Everton goal to break the deadlock.
Deulofeu’s blistering pace was a constant threat down the right-hand side, as Arsenal struggled to get near him when he reached top speed.
Stones made an important sliding block to quell the danger as another driven pass in a dangerous area looked certain to reach Walcott. The talented young English centre-back was worse for wear afterwards as he overstretched and had to receive treatment from the physios. Thankfully, he was able to continue and after a short water break play resumed.
It was clear which side were on top, Arsenal were dominating proceedings as the clock ticked down in the first-half. Stones had to be alert to thwart the Gunners as they were ever-present on the counter attack. First a good sliding challenge denied Jack Wilshere from having a pop at goal. Then, he made an important clearance after an ambitious Giroud effort from an acute angle was parried by Joel Robles back into the danger area.
Petr Cech made his first save of note after 41 minutes. A sweetly struck free-kick delivery was fizzed into the box by Luke Garbutt, and an effort by Naismith was flicked onto the crossbar by the fingertips of the experienced ‘keeper, who was alert to the danger but was unable to stop a deflected finish bounce into the corner of the net. Thankfully for the Arsenal faithful the offside flag had already been raised.
Everton were only a goal behind as the half-time whistle blew, and Arsène knew it could have easily been three or four in truth. However, as the second-half began, both sides made changes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the Gunners in place of Wilshere whilst Barkley and Mirallas were introduced as Naismith and Deulofeu made way.
The second 45 was lively and exciting as both sides were in search of goals – Arsenal to try and kill off the game, whilst Everton were eager to get back into the match. Garbutt’s fierce strike, 25 yards out, was well parried courtesy of a diving save made by Cech. Moments later at the other end, Joel had to be quick to deny Cazorla’s speculative effort from twenty yards.
Arsenal soon doubled the lead, which was deserved after their intense attacking pressure. Giroud was unlucky not to latch onto a header, before Bellerín saw an ambitious strike flash over the crossbar with Joel getting fingertips to his countryman’s shot.
However, it was two-nil just minutes later. A short-corner was not defended at all properly by the Toffees and Cazorla weaved his magic to jink his way towards the edge of the box before striking low and hard into the bottom corner of the net, out of Joel’s reach. He did a body feint then faked shooting the other way, with James McCarthy being given the run-around trying tried to stay tight to the talented Spaniard.
Everton made a few alterations as Romelu Lukaku and Leon Osman came on in place of Kone and McCarthy respectively, just moments after the goal went in at the restart.
Joel was helpless to try and save the shot in all honesty, and it wasn’t going to get any better for Martinez or his men. Just three minutes later, it went from bad to worse. Cazorla got his second assist of the match after flicking the ball up into space for Mesut Özil to strike goalwards. The silky German took his time, but calmly placed the ball in the corner of the net, past Joel to add another goal on the scoresheet and make the supporters go wild.
Plenty more changes came soon afterwards: Mikel Arteta replaced Walcott, Akpom and Coquelin came on for Giroud and Cazorla respectively whilst Browning and Hibbert were introduced in place of Stones and Jagielka.
As we know by now, Arsenal are often their own worst enemy. Oxlade-Chamberlain found himself in a spot of bother after picking up the ball in midfield and squandered possession. Just a few seconds afterwards, Barkley got himself on the ball before slamming a fierce thunderbolt into the roof of the net to cut the deficit to two goals. Cech was unlucky not to keep a clean sheet, and it was frustrating all round from a mistake that could have easily been avoided.
Akpom was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet as his effort was held by Joel, with the Everton backline often being troubled even in the closing stages of the game.
With two minutes of stoppage time being added on, Arsenal had the result all but wrapped up with the clock continuing to tick down. Cameras showed the Gunners’ staff and coaches looking fairly relaxed on the sidelines watching on, and Cech was called into action late on to deny Mirallas’ low effort on-goal.
As the full-time whistle blew, the competition was brought to a close. Arsenal were by far the best team in the tournament and asserted their dominance with a commanding performance against a tough opponent who have often proven to be a bogey team in recent years. The display is sure to give both supporters and coaches encouragement ahead of the new campaign, but there is always room for improvement.
A pre-season trophy is no bad thing, though! Arsenal now have the Emirates Cup next weekend, and then the Community Shield against last term’s champions, Chelsea.