By Richard Clarke in Szombathely
Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at Szombathelyi Haladas on Tuesday night in the first game of their Austrian Training Camp.
Arsène Wenger's side started in lively fashion against last season's Hungarian Division Two champions but were shocked in the 24th minute when Krisztian Kenesei's shot was adjudged to have crossed the line before Gavin Hoyte cleared.
However they got on level terms three minutes before half time when Theo Walcott's low drive across the face of goal found the far corner.
A swathe of substitutions on both sides rather ruined the spectacle in the second half and, if anything, the hosts had the better chances to force a win.
Still, this was another useful run-out. While the name Szombathelyi Haladas means literally "Progress of Szombathely" it appears the progress of Arsenal will take a little more time. And there is still plenty of that before the season starts.
Twenty years ago, the 45-minute trip from Arsenal's Austrian Training Camp to the border town of Szombathely would have involved crossing the Iron Curtain. But, judging by the number of Arsenal shirts worn by local fans this evening, the richest Football League in the world was now a massive draw in this part of Hungary.
A couple of rock singers belted out some songs on the pitch as the players warmed up. A 13,000-strong crowd seemed largely unimpressed with the music but were delighted to see the visiting side; cheering each player on to the pitch.
Wenger's 17-man squad was largely the same as the one that started against Barnet on Saturday. The notable change was the introduction of Carlos Vela for his Arsenal debut. He joined Nicklas Bendtner up front so Walcott dropped into midfield. Gavin Hoyte was paired with his brother at centre back and Jack Wilshire, 16, had another chance to impress. This time he started on the left wing.
Arsenal began the game as the better side. In the seventh minute, Nicklas Bendtner clipped over a cross from the left, Vela chested the ball down then flicked it back into the path of the onrushing Denilson, who thundered a drive against the underside of the bar.
In the 10th minute, Walcott poked the ball past his marker but his shot was woefully weak. After that Aaron Ramsey had a drive deflected wide and Bacary Sagna's curling cross from the right just evaded the head of Bendtner.
It was all Arsenal. To this point, Szombathelyi had only mustered the weakest of drives from Kensesei.
But, in the 24th minute, the home side took the lead. Peter Voros angled in a ball from the right, Kensesei chested the ball down on the edge of the area then clipped the ball over the advancing Almunia and towards goal. Gavin Hoyte chased back and hooked the ball off the line but the referee deemed the ball had already crossed the line.
Big brother Justin had the perfect opportunity to equalise a couple minutes later but hoiked an effort high over the bar from six yards out after Wilshire's low corner had scuttled through the area.
Just past the half hour, Clichy raced into the area and fired into the sidenetting.
Arsenal were turning the screw now. Keeper Daniel Rozsa dropped a corner from Denilson but Vela could not turn it home from close range.
At the other end, Marton Oross narrowly turned home a low cross from Peter Toth and, seconds later, Andras Kaj tested Almunia from distance.
Szombathelyi went onto have their best period of pressure in the half. So it was a moderate surprise when, three minutes from the break, Bendtner expertly chested down a long pass from the left and instantly found Walcott who steered in a low cross-shot off the base of the post.
Wenger made four changes for the second half. One of them, Henri Lansbury, forced a flying save from Rozsa eight minutes in.
The tactical alterations meant that the first-choice full backs - Sagna and Clichy - were now the centre back combination. Meanwhile Walcott had joined Bendtner up front. Unlike on Saturday at Barnet, the changes hampered the game. Lansbury's effort apart, the second period had been sterile.
In fairness it livened up towards the end. Ten minutes from time, Clichy fired a free-kick wide after Jay Simpson had been fouled just outside the area. Then Attila Simon escaped on the left and Sagna did well to divert his low cross from a corner with an unmarked attacker waiting in the area.
With two minutes left Simpson might have grabbed a winner from Francis Coquelin's cut back.
But a draw was probably fair in the end.
- Almunia 45
- Hoyte 45
- Walcott Goal!
- Ramsey 45
- Wilshere 62
- Bendtner 62
- Vela 45
- Mannone 45
- Traore 45
- Lansbury 45
- Randall 45
- Simpson 62
- Rózsa 75
- Tóth 75
- Schimmer 69
- Kuttor 72
- Vörös 69
- Oross 72
- Kaj 61
- Kensesei 61 Goal!
- Kovács 75
- Burkus 72