By Richard Clarke at Stadion Wojska Polskiego, Warsaw
Arsenal completed their pre-season campaign by pulling off an audacious comeback to win 6-5 in a crazy game at Legia Warsaw on Saturday.
The match saw the official opening of the Polish side's new stadium and the home fans revelled in the party atmosphere early on as their team sailed into a 3-0 lead in the opening 36 minutes.
Alejandro Ariel Cabral was allowed time and space to rifle home from distance in the 17th minute. In the 33rd minute, Laurent Koscielny fired into his own net after Arsenal had failed to clear a corner. When, a couple of minutes later, Artur Jedrzejczyk hooked home a shot from close range the newly-installed roof seemed likely to come off the stadium.
However, Maraoune Chamakh reduced the arrears immediately with a close-range header and, within 15 minutes of the restart, substitute Emmanuel Eboue had scored twice to bring Arsenal level.
In the 63rd minute, the visitors seemed to have completed their comeback when Kieran Gibbs scored with rasping drive into the top corner of the net.
However, 15 minutes from time, Jedrzejczyk volleyed Legia back level again.
But, even though this was Legia's day, it was Arsenal's game. In the 81st minute, Jay Emmanuel Thomas escaped on the left and fired home from close range.
Three minutes later, Samir Nasri finally ended the argument with a free-kick. Maciej Iwanski's injury-time strike made no difference.
An 11-goal thriller made for great entertainment but, conceding five goals was hardly the perfect preparation for the new campaign.
However, when Arsenal were sloppy they righted their wrongs and they deserve credit for that.
Greater challenges lie ahead but, a record of Played 6 Won 5 Drawn 1 Lost 0 for pre-season is none too shabby.
Now for the real stuff.
The Arsenal squad came out to warm-up in a cacophony of noise. The opening ceremony for the Stadion Wojska Polskiego had been colourful, loud and very well-received. The new building is set to hold over 31,000 but construction had not been completed.
The three stands on show were impressive but the fourth was barely a shell. It did not affect the atmosphere one bit.
At his pre-match press conference, Wenger had admitted his side this afternoon would have little bearing on the one he'd put out at Liverpool next Sunday. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were never going to be involved (and will not travel to Anfield either) but Andrey Arshavin, Abou Diaby and Alex Song were not here either. The Russian had a small muscular problem while the other two were simply rested.
While Wenger was speaking to the media on Friday, a monsoon battered the window of the press conference room. By kick-off time, that had been replaced by blistering heat however the effect of the rain remained obvious on the pitch. It cut up early and seemed pretty sticky throughout.
It keeping with the turf, the game was a damp squib early on. Nothing of note occurred in the first 15 minutes. A couple of free-kicks skimmed wide at each end - that was about it.
So the quality of the goal that broke the deadlock was out of keeping with what we had seen so far. Cabral collected the ball in the centre circle, advanced to the edge of the area and sent a thunderous left-foot strike beyond Fabianski and into the net. The finish was undoubtedly well-executed but the Arsenal midfield had allowed the Argentinean grab 10 easy yards before he pulled the trigger.
The goal poked the visitors in the ribs. Walcott fired over the bar and Wilshere set Nasri clear but the Frenchman could not squeeze his shot past keeper Marijan Antolovic at the near post.
However their revival was stunted by two goals inside three minutes.
Just past the half-hour, a corner from Iwanski was prodded back towards goal by Bruno Mezenga and, amid a melee of players, Koscielny skewed an attempted clearance into the net.
From the next corner, Legia decided to play the ball down the line. It was eventually floated to far post where Cabral nodded it back into the path of Jedrzejczyk. He hammered the ball into the roof of the net from eight yards.
The Legia fans were delirious and they were still celebrating when, in the 38th minute, Arsenal got back into the game. Nasri floated over a cross from the left and Chamakh clashed with Antolovic in the air and steered the ball home. The striker went away rubbing his head, the keeper needed treatment but was OK to carry on.
The half-time whistle blew shortly afterwards and the Arsenal players trudged in with much to ponder.
Wenger made four changes at the break and, one for the new additions, Gibbs forced an early save from Antolovic. But, seconds later, Legia broke down the left and, another substitute, Wojciech Szczesny made a smart double save from Iwanski and then Manu.
A fourth Legia goal would have killed the game as a contest but the pendulum swung back Arsenal's way in the 51st minute. Again, the substitutes made the difference. Carlos Vela swung over a free-kick from the right, Antolovic missed his punched and Eboue stormed in at the far post to power home a header.
Arsenal were now chasing the game and that made Legia dangerous on the break. Only a superbly timed challenge from Thomas Vermaelen stopped Manu putting the home team two goals clear again.
Yet again, a Legia miss preceded an Arsenal goal. On the hour, a clearance from Jakub Wawrzyniak ricocheted off Wilshere and fell nicely for Eboue to race clear. His finish was clinical.
The visitors now had their tails up and, on the hour, they took the lead for the first time in the game. Nasri spread the ball wide for Gibbs, who was playing in front of Gael Clichy on the left. The Englishman took a touch a slammed his shot into the top left-hand corner of the net. A stunning finish.
Legia were starting to fall apart now. Three minutes later another defensive mistake allowed Vela to stride through and send a curling effort against the stanchion behind the goal.
Arsenal seemed set to cruise home but nothing seemed easy this afternoon. In the 75th minute, Sagna's clearing header was hooked goalwards by Piotr Giza and Jedrzejczyk volleyed adroitly past Szczesny.
However, Arsenal would not be denied. In the 81st minute, Thomas held off Srda Knevevic and fired home from the angle.
Three minutes later, Arsenal won a free-kick just outside the area and Nasri, who tireless invention deserved a goal, drove the ball through the wall and the hands of Antolovic.
Iwanski's goal made for a tense final few seconds but, at the end of a breathless game, Arsenal held on.
- Fabianski 45
- Sagna 79
- Wilshere 72
- Nasri Goal!
- Frimpong 45
- Rosicky 45
- Walcott 45
- Chamakh 72 Goal!
- Szczesny 45
- Gibbs 45 Goal!
- Nordtveit 79
- Lansbury 72
- Eboue 45 Goal! Goal!
- Emmanuel-Thomas 72 Goal!
- Vela 45
- Jedrzejczyk 89 Goal! Goal!
- Cabral 70 Goal!
- Vrdoljak 28
- Mezenga 64
- Manu 90
- Chinyama 64
- Iwanski 28 Goal!
- Kumbev 89
- Giza 70
- Kucharczyk 90