By Richard Clarke at the Amsterdam ArenA
Arsenal produced a stunning 16-minute comeback to beat Ajax in the opening game of the Amsterdam Tournament on Friday night.
With just over an hour gone at the ArenA, Arsène Wenger’s were staring at defeat against a side inspired by spectacular first-half finishes from Luis Suarez and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
However after 67 minutes Emmanuel Adebayor steered home Emmanuel Eboue’s excellent cross. He then set up substitute Nicklas Bendtner for the equaliser eight minutes later. In the 83rd minute the Togolese striker completed the job by slotting home a cut back from Denilson.
Having relinquished their grip on the Emirates Cup last weekend, it appears Arsenal are not intent on letting the Amsterdam Tournament trophy slip from their hands so easily.
At the halfway stage, Wenger’s men have six points - three for the win, one for each goal - Ajax have two while Sevilla and Inter possess one apiece after their goalless draw. Arsenal play the Spaniards on Saturday.
If Austria had been a re-introduction and Emirates Cup a consolidation then this was Wenger’s final preparation work for the new season.
At least for most of the squad anyway. For Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas, tonight represented their first game of pre-season. The Ivorian had been laid low with malaria in mid-July while the Spaniard had come back later than the rest of his team-mates because of his country’s success at Euro 2008.
Samir Nasri (knee/thigh) and Abou Diaby (thigh) had both not travelled for the tournament due to injury. But, apart from that, the starting XI this evening could be close to the one Wenger sends out against Twente on Wednesday.
The back four was first-choice while Denilson joined Fabregas in centre midfield with Theo Walcott on the left and Emmanuel Eboue on the right. Adebayor and Robin van Persie were up front.
The strength of the line-up was demonstrated within 90 seconds as Arsenal created a tremendous opportunity.
Fabregas hacked a huge clearance forward and Walcott’s exquisite first touch sent Adebayor racing through the centre. The Togolese targetman outpaced Vurnon Anita and burst into the area with only Maarten Stekelenburg to beat. The keeper read Adebayor’s intentions and pulled off an excellent point-blank save.
Ajax took 15 minutes to reply. Saurez clipped over a cross and Dario Cvitanich diverted a bullet-header inches over the bar. However the assistant referee had raised his flag for offside.
Arsenal were the better side after that. Walcott worried the Ajax defence on numerous occasions and it seemed the visitors were in the mood to retain the trophy last year.
On the half hour, Fabregas swung a cheeky corner to Eboue just outside the area. The Ivorian had time to steady himself and then let fly. Stekelenburg saved well but could only parry the ball to the feet of Adebayor six yards out. His toe-poke beat the keeper but hit a startled Anita on the line.
Seconds later Stekelenburg dived full length to save from Fabregas. Arsenal were turning up the heat.
Or so they thought.
Almost immediately Gallas snaffled the ball clear as Cvitanich threatened. Then in the 34th minute Ajax bagged the first of their quick brace.
Rasmus Lindgren clipped the ball forward and an off-balance Toure nodded the ball down invitingly for Suarez to hook home a blistering shot into the net off the underside of the bar.
Arsenal were stunned; they had been the better side. But before they could regain their composure they were 2-0 down. Again it was Lindgren who provided the ball into the area but this time Cvitanich nodded the ball down. It was collected by Huntelaar, who guide a low volley across Almunia and into the far corner of the net. wonderfully composed strike.
The Ajax captain put the ball in the Arsenal net again four minutes before the break but the offside flag had long-since been raised.
Fabregas was in the thick of the action at the start of the second half. Within seconds of the first whistle, Walcott’s pass found him on the edge of the area but his drive was charged down.
Then he appeared the clipped by Anita as he attempted to reach the right-hand byline but referee Kevin Blom waved play on.
Arsenal were again the superior side territorially but Ajax had their fair share of chances. Huntelaar and Ismail Aissati both went close the hosts.
This was turning out to be a competitive friendly, as a flurry of yellow cards just before the hour served to prove.
As the game went on, Ajax seemed more comfortable in control. After 65 minutes, substitute Miralem Sulejmani even threatened a third but his attempted curler drifted past the far post.
It was kind of ironic then that Arsenal got back into the game seconds later. Eboue curled a raking cross into the area from the right and Adebayor rose to steer his header high into the net past Stekelenburg.
If that goal was the result of hard graft and quality, the equaliser was handed to Arsenal on a plate.
Mitchell Donald tried to pass back to Stekelenburg but had not spotted Adebayor racing through. The striker nipped in, took the ball to the byline (but not beyond as it first appeared) and then cut it back for Bendtner to score.
The comeback was now on. Ajax had lost their swagger while Arsenal buoyant once more. The inevitable goal arrived seven minutes from time when Denilson darted in the area and cut the ball back for Adebayor score from close range.
- Gallas Yellow Card
- Fabregas 84 Yellow Card
- Denilson 84
- Walcott 67
- Adebayor Goal! Goal!
- Persie 84
- Senderos 84
- Ramsey 84
- Wilshere 84
- Bendtner 67 Goal!
- Anita 69
- Aissati 72
- Yellow Card
- Cvitanich 64
- Donald 72
- Sulejmani 64