It took a dramatic late goal from Chuba Akpom, but the Premier League's Arsenal outlasted the MLS All-Stars, 2-1, in Thursday's MLS All-Star Game in San Jose, California.
The Gunners also received a first-half goal off Joel Campbell's penalty kick, while Didier Drogba scored the lone goal for MLS. Arsenal snapped a two-game MLS winning streak in the event, as the All-Stars beat Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur in their previous two matches.
Paul Carr of ESPN Stats & Info noted Arsenal's triumph was the first win by a London team over the MLS All-Stars:
Arsenal weren't in midseason form as they build toward the upcoming Premier League campaign, but they managed 52 percent possession and seven shots on goal, compared to four for MLS, per ESPN FC.
Pace was not an issue in the initial few minutes. Arsenal's Theo Walcott nearly found the net on an early set piece bu goalkeeper Andre Blake turned it away, and the MLS All-Stars failed to convert a golden scoring opportunity when Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech blocked Giovani dos Santos from close range.
The quick back-and-forth action led to an early goal, after Arsenal found Campbell with a long ball and Laurent Ciman fouled him in the box as he was moving toward an open shot on goal. Campbell buried the subsequent penalty kick, as MLS shared:
The MLS representatives struggled to keep up with what Maximiliano Bretos of ESPN called a "Premier League pace" in the first half. While Blake kept the score at 1-0 with formidable play in front of the goal, Patrick Murphy of SB Nation's Massive Report noted his defense wasn't doing him any favors:
However, Drogba scored the first-half equalizer on the other end during stoppage time. It took him three tries to hit the net on the attack, but his persistence paid off as he buried a goal on his own rebound. He beat his former Chelsea teammate, Cech, which meant the Arsenal goalkeeper may be in for a long year, as Alicia Rose DelGallo of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out:
Carr noted Drogba scored 13 times in 15 contests against Arsenal when he was with Chelsea, which prompted this response from the club on Twitter:
Both teams made a number of substitutions at the start of the second half, including Arsenal's newly signed midfielder Granit Xhaka, in the hope they could inspire a late surge. However, neither team generated many legitimate scoring chances outside of a handful of forward pushes as the pace slowed in the opening stages of the second half.
Arsenal started to knock on the door when Xhaka ripped a long-range shot at 69 minutes and then curved a set-piece attempt in the 72nd minute, but goalkeeper David Bingham had the answer.
From there, the MLS All-Stars subbed in some familiar names for United States soccer fans. Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski both entered the game for the stretch run, and Wondolowski drew plenty of support in front of the local San Jose Earthquakes supporters.
Wondolowski had a chance to write the ideal ending, but he sailed an open look over the crossbar in the 82nd minute, as ESPN FC passed along:
That missed opportunity proved to be crucial, as Arsenal responded with the game-winning goal in the 87th minute. Akpom connected from close range off a perfectly placed assist from Nacho Monreal, as the MLS defense lost its concentration in a critical moment.
The MLS All-Stars challenged a couple of times in the final minutes, but they couldn't overcome the Arsenal defense and lost the exhibition in front of the San Jose fans.
Cyle Larin discussed the contest from the MLS’ perspective, via ESPN FC:
As for Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger praised his opponents, per DelGallo: “The MLS team was exceptional. When I looked at the players on the team sheet I thought, 'That will be a very difficult game for us.'”
Wenger also singled out Drogba, per reporter Patrick Friolet: “At halftime I thought, Drogba haunts us again, even in the USA!”
Campbell reflected on his effort that included scoring the opening goal:
While Arsenal won’t have to worry about Drogba in the Premier League, the level of competition will only increase moving forward. They will look to parlay some of the things that stood out during Thursday’s victory into their play in the upcoming season.