Arsenal vs. Malaysia XI: 6 Things We Learned from Preseason Friendly
In the humidity of Kuala Lumpur, Arsenal's first 90-minute preseason friendly resulted in a 2-1 victory against a determined Malaysia XI side. Late goals from Thomas Eisfeld and Chuks Aneke spared Arsene Wenger's blushes, as the hosts faltered in the final minutes of the game.
Aside from Vito Mannone, the entire squad was substituted at half-time to give every outfield player in the squad a chance to shine. Mannone, Arsenal's third-choice goalkeeper, was the only man to feature for the full duration of the encounter.
Despite this being little more than an exhibition match, these games are crucial for Wenger and his coaching staff as they try and gauge who should earn consistent playing time when the season eventually starts and the Emirates Stadium welcomes Sunderland on August 18.
With that in mind, here's six things we can glean from today's contest.
Young Defenders Outshine Their Seniors
With Arsenal conceding at the death of the first half, there was extra pressure on the replacement defensive corps to hold firm and prevent any further raids on goal—a task Kyle Bartley, Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris and Craig Eastmond performed valiantly.
Azmi Muslim's cracking effort from more than 25 yards out to put the hosts ahead may have been in a different class, but the defenders on the pitch—amongst them first-team regulars Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen (who also captained the side)—were caught napping and paid the price.
With the weight of that initial error not on their shoulders, Arsenal's younger crop of enforcers pulled off a successful clean sheet to upstage their first-team counterparts. For that, Wenger can be pleased.
Coming from Behind to Win Shows Resolve and Determination
From the point of view of the Malaysians, to lead until the 87th minute and then lose the match outright must be a bitter pill to swallow. But for Arsenal, keeping heart and employing all the grit they could muster to score two in quick succession to sink the home side takes a lot of guts and determination.
For that, Arsenal must be applauded, even against seemingly weaker opposition.
At least we can infer that Arsenal have what appears necessary to inspire a victorious effort from a bad situation. Let's hope this winning mentality can galvanise further triumphs in the club's preseason campaign.
Young Midfielders Capable of Getting on the Scoresheet
As previously stated, Arsenal's goals were scored by Thomas Eisfeld and Chuks Aneke, both playing in midfield in the second half. Eisfeld's finish was a gorgeous first-time strike to beat Mohd Marlias in goal, while Aneke's winner was the culmination of a sumptuous passing move which ultimately found its way goalwards courtesy of a deflection from a Malaysian defender.
Both Eisfeld and Aneke had been lavishly praised by Wenger upon their respective arrivals at the Emirates, with Aneke drawing some comparisons to former club captain Patrick Vieira. A goal apiece will surely do no harm to their progress and confidence on this tour and beyond.
Benik Afobe Struggled to Capitalise on His Chances
Arsenal's goals in the National Stadium came from two midfield players, meaning the attackers went goalless in the 2-1 victory. Although Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh featured in the first 45 minutes, the club's young striker of Congolese descent, Benik Afobe, had at least two chances to place his shots in the back of the net but couldn't pull it off. As the club website's Rob Kelly reports:
"Benik Afobe was presented with a glorious chance to restore parity in the 66th minute as Song released him down the middle with an incisive through-ball. The young striker was in acres of space but his left-footed effort was well blocked by the onrushing goalkeeper.
Arsenal were pressing and probing but to no avail, and Afobe had another half-chance in the 81st minute but sliced his close-range effort over the bar."
With Afobe holding high hopes for the upcoming season, hopefully his poor fortune in front of goal in Kuala Lumpur won't dent his confidence too much before the next stop on this preseason tour.
Wenger Remains Coy Amid Transfer Speculation
Some things never change.
In his customary post-match interview with the club website, Wenger refused to entertain any new rumours of transfer speculation.
Despite the links to a potential acquisition of Malaga's attacking playmaker Santi Cazorla have come in fast and furious throughout the day, the Arsenal manager said nothing on the situation, neither dismissing it nor ruling it out.
He did, however, briefly suggest the possibility of signing a Malaysian player. One cannot help but think this was just a little bit tongue-in-cheek!
At the End of the Day, It's a Workout
Lest we forget, today's encounter will have little bearing on the outcome of matters of greater importance for Arsenal Football Club. The Robin van Persie transfer saga drones on, and the direction of the club this season in the midst of squad improvements from rivals Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur continues to be hotly debated by fans.
The next stop on the tour takes Arsenal's party to Beijing, where reigning Premier League champions Manchester City await in the Olympic Stadium. In the lead-up to that clash on Friday, the Gunners' youngsters will have time to prepare before trying to make their mark on what will surely be a particularly intriguing encounter.