By Richard Clarke at the UPC Arena, Graz
Samir Nasri stole the limelight with a sumptuous first-half double as Arsenal beat Sturm Graz 3-0 on Wednesday evening.
The Frenchman thundered home an angled drive after 16 minutes to give Arsène Wenger's side the lead. Then, two minutes from the break, Nasri curled home a wonderful free-kick in to the top left-hand corner of the net to give the visitors a lead they were unlikely to let ever slip.
Substitute Henri Lansbury added a third 12 minutes after the restart.
That ended the contest. Arsenal cruised home to complete another comprehensive, straightforward victory.
To be honest, this was standard fare but only because the visitors made it that way. They barely got out of third gear but were efficient and ruthless when they had to be. Graz just could not cope.
It was just about the perfect performance to start the ‘testing ground' phase of the campaign.
Thus far, Arsenal's pre-season preparations had gone entirely to plan. Win at Barnet - check, travel to the Austrian countryside amid a heatwave - check, get in a couple of sweltering training sessions under their belt before starting the friendlies - check.
However this was a significant step up in standard from that overwhelming win at Underhill on Saturday. Last season Graz had won the Austrian Cup, got to the group stages of the Europa League and finished fourth in their Bundasliga.
But more importantly, they had started their domestic campaign at the weekend with a 3-0 win over SV Reid. In short, their preparations for the season were complete, Arsenal's had barely begun.
Wenger chose exactly the same squad as Saturday barring the omissions of Manuel Almunia and Conor Henderson.
Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere made for a youthful starting pair in central midfield, allowing Nasri to push forward through the centre in support of Marouane Chamakh. Thomas Vermaelen was named as captain for the first time in his Arsenal career.
There was little to report in the opening 15 minutes. It was all very pre-season. Arsenal were decent enough with Wilshere and Nasri catching the eye. Graz were organised enough but never incisive.
The first piece of real quality would bring the opening goal.
In the 16th minute, Nasri's angled ball gave Chamakh a glimpse of goal on the edge of the area. However the Moroccan was dispossessed and the ball bounced back into the path of the onrushing Frenchman. He expertly prodded it away from his marker before rifling home a left-foot shot from just outside the area. A lovely finish from a player who is having a pre-season of promise - and more was to come.
The same two players nearly made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later. Nasri fired over a corner from the left and Chamakh beat Graz keeper Silvije Cavlina in the air. Fortunately for the home side Thomas Burgstaller hooked the ball off the line.
Graz were still neat and tidy but offering little going forward. When, in the 26th minute, a Florian Kainz free-kick was nodded into Fabianski's hands by the stooping Marvin Weinberger it drew a ripple of applause from the home crowd.
They had had little else to cheer.
However, after the half-hour, they did create a couple of clear-cut chances in quick succession. Vermaelen's pass was intercepted by Weinberger on the halfway line. He fed Imre Sazbics and raced clear onto the return pass. Fabianski bided his time, stood tall and made a fine one-on-one save with his legs.
Graz played short from the resulting corner and Szabics nodded over at the near post when he should have scored.
However Arsenal would quickly strangle the Graz response.
Two minutes from half-time, they won a free-kick just outside the home side's penalty area. Nasri stepped up before curling a gorgeous free-kick beyond Cavlina and into the top corner. Think Thierry Henry against Roma in 2002 and you have got the idea.
Wenger made seven changes at the break. But it was Graz who carved out the early chances.
Burgstaller nodded tamely into the hands of substitute keeper Wojciech Szczesny at the far post when he might have done better. Then the experienced Mario Haas seemed set to pull the trigger from 12 yards but could only fire blankly at the Pole.
As at the end of the first half, they would be made to pay. In the 55th minute, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas cut in from the right and, as Wilshere pulled the defender towards the near post, Lansbury was waiting at the far stick.
He kept his cool, foxed the keeper and fired home.
Lansbury and Emmanuel-Thomas both tried their luck from distance in minutes that followed. It was an indication of their comfort.
The latter nearly danced through the Graz danced shortly afterwards only for Walcott to fire into the sidenetting.
Rosicky, Emmanuel-Thomas and Traore all threatened midway through the half. With 10 minutes left Vermaelen nodded over from point blank range. Graz seemed to have given up the ghost.
The game meandered to a conclusion and the final whistle was a relief for both side. Arsenal had done their work well while Graz had been well beaten - and that is the way it had been for the final half-hour.
Still it is all valuable practice time for Wenger and his backroom staff.
At the final whistle Arsenal's pre-season record read like this - Played 180 minutes, Won 2, Scored 7, Conceded 0.
That will do perfectly well for now.
*Note: Armand Traore went off at half time but returned in the 61st minute in place of Jack Wilshere.
- Fabianski 46
- Traore 46 61
- Vermaelen 46
- Nasri 46 Goal! Goal!
- Frimpong 46
- Wilshere 61 Yellow Card
- Arshavin 46
- Chamakh 46
- Szczesny 46
- Gibbs 46
- Koscielny 46
- Eastmond 46
- Rosicky 46
- Lansbury 46 Goal!
- Emmanuel-Thomas 46
SK Sturm Graz
- Silvije Cavlina 46
- Gordon Schildenfeld 46
- Joachim Standfest 46
- Manuel Weber 46
- Thomas Burgstaller
- Stefan Stangl 46
- Samir Muratovic 46
- Florian Kainz 61
- Pa Saiko Kujabi 46
- Imre Szabics 46
- Marvin Weinberger 46
- Christian Gratzei 46
- Ferdinand Feldhofer 46
- Dominic Hassler
- Phillip Hutter 90
- Martin Ehrenreic 46
- Dominic Purcher 46
- Phillip Hormann 61
- Mario Kienzl 90 46
- Mario Haas 46
- Haris Bukva 46
- Roman Kienast 46
- Sandro Foda 46