By Richard Clarke
Andrey Arshavin struck twice in the final four minutes as Arsenal beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 to end Day One on top of the Emirates Cup standings.
To be honest, little had happened in this game before Jack Wilshere’s introduction at half time. The teenage midfielder tantalised the Spanish defence for 45 minutes however it would be a Russian who won the game for the home side.
Arshavin seemed to have done that in the 86th minute when he volleyed in from a Cesc Fabregas cross however German Pacheco levelled seconds later.
A draw seemed certain but, then again, nothing is certain with Arshavin on the pitch. In the dying seconds, he raced onto an errant backheader, flicked the ball past the keeper and squeezed the ball home from an almost impossible angle.
It was four minutes of madness after a pretty mundane 86. But it was good enough to win the game and puts Arsenal in pole position to regain their home trophy.
Wenger always intended to spread his squad across this two-game weekend but, nonetheless, his side this afternoon was reasonably strong.
The most significant news was the return of Tomas Rosicky after 19 months away. Thomas Vermaelen had been forced off at the end of the friendly at Hannover on Wednesday and, as a result, did not appear today. The formation was the now established wide 4-3-3 but this time Robin van Persie was flanked on the left by Nicklas Bendtner and on the right by Emmanuel Eboue.
Atletico started with Diego Forlan up front and Jose Antonio Reyes on the right. The former Manchester United forward was never going to be that popular among the home crowd but the announcement of the latter was cheered by the Emirates faithful. Reyes had a record of 23 goals in 110 appearances during his three years at Highbury.
It was the Spaniard who provided the first telling moment of the game. In the sixth minute, Reyes took the corner from the right, Raul Garcia nodded on at the near post and Sergio Aguero sent his header into the sidenetting at the far. A player of his stature should have done better.
Rosicky nearly had a made an immediate impact on his return but, despite his finger-wagging protestations to the assistant referee, he was correctly called offside before slamming the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area.
It was a bright beginning but it could not be maintained. Opportunities were scarce in a mundane first 45 minutes.
Forlan and Florent Sinama-Pongolle both had half-chances with headers. However, generally, Arsenal were the slicker side.
That said, the most they could muster was a curling cross from Armand Traore than caused Atletico keeper Sergio Asenjo to bat the ball away while Van Persie had a free-kick deflected over.
Three minutes from the break, the Dutchman fed Eboue on the left. The Ivorian cut in and fired straight at Asenjo, who stood firm.
Wenger replaced Rosicky, Eboue and Traore with Wilshere, Fran Merida and Gael Clichy at the start of the second half.
The latter pair were playing their first pre-season games of 2009/10. While the first of the trio, Wilshere, showed class from the off as Arsenal took control.
Three minutes in he sent Sagna clear on the right and the full back’s low cross was backflicked towards goal by Van Persie only for John Heitinga to knock the ball off the line.
Almost immediately, Bendtner controlled Wilshere’s lofted cross at the far post and blazed over when, at least, he should have employed the keeper.
Just past the hour, substitute Maxi Rodriguez sent in a shot from distance and Mannone could only half-punch the ball behind.
However within seconds Clichy sent over a tantalising cross from the left and Wilshere fooled his marker on the byline before laying the ball back to Ramsey. The Welshman had time and space, on reflection perhaps too much. His powerful shot was a parried by Asenjo.
It was Ramsey’s last contribution. He joined Bendtner and Van Persie as they were replaced by Eduardo, Arshavin and Fabregas.
It was perhaps the boost Arsenal needed. Within seconds Wilshere clipped another clever ball to the far post and Merida slid in seconds too late.
Both sides went for the win towards the end. Rodriguez fired a shot across the face of goal then Mannone parried a swerving drive from Borja Baston on to the bar.
Four minutes from time, Arshavin had seemingly won it won he volleyed in a Fabregas cross but Pacecho’s breakaway strike proved otherwise.
So Arshavin did what Arshavin does – he won it again. The 27-year-old raced on to a misplaced backheader, beat the keeper and turned to ball home.
An incredible finish. Roll on Sunday.
|Total shots on target|
- Eboue 46
- Ramsey 66
- Rosicky 46
- Traore 46
- Persie 66
- Bendtner 66
- Arshavin 66 Goal! Goal!
- Eduardo 66
- Wilshere 46
- Clichy 46
- Fabregas 66
- Merida 46
- Dominguez 55
- Garcia 69
- Juanito Yellow Card
- Ujfalusi Yellow Card
- Aguero 53
- Reyes 69
- Pongolle 40
- Forlan 72
- Santana 69
- Pacheco 53 Goal!
- Baston 72
- Cabrera 55
- Jurado 69
- Maxi 40