By Chris Harris at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal had to settle for a draw on the opening day of the Emirates Cup after letting a two-goal lead slip against Boca Juniors.
Robin van Persie converted a cross from the impressive Gervinho to open the scoring before half time and Aaron Ramsey added a second within a minute of the restart with a venomous strike from the edge of the box.
Boca looked beaten at that point but two goals in three minutes from Lucas Viatri and Pablo Mouche hauled them level with Arsenal found wanting at the back on both occasions.
The tournament hosts probed for a winner but could not find a way past their rejuvenated opponents. Indeed they needed a smart stop from Vito Mannone to hold onto their point.
Either way, this draw sets us up nicely for Sunday’s clash with the New York Red Bulls - and a certain Mr Henry. The MLS side beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in Saturday’s opener so a point is all they need to leave London with the silverware.
Arsène Wenger and his squad had travelled halfway round the world and back again since they last set foot on their own pitch and, fittingly, Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ blared from the Emirates speakers before kick off.
For players and fans alike this now traditional staging post on the pre-season trail represents a fresh start with new hope to cling to as well as a new kit to admire. There were a couple of new faces too with Gervinho and Carl Jenkinson handed their home debuts.
Elsewhere Emmanuel Frimpong - resplendent with new Mohican haircut - was paired with Jack Wilshere in midfield, Armand Traore got the nod at left back and youngsters Kyle Bartley and Benik Afobe were named on the bench.
Boca’s star turn was Juan Roman Riquelme. The old-school playmaker is winding down his career now but his rhythmic play is still a joy to behold. Riquelme’s touch plus the drums, whistles and exuberance of the Boca fans brought a flavour of Buenos Aires to north London.
There was controversy before the first minute was out.
Gervinho, starting on the right, danced towards the box and found Wilshere inside it. The England man was clipped but referee Martin Atkinson gave nothing. There would have been more than raised eyebrows had this been a competitive fixture.
Gervinho made that happen and it was soon clear that he was the main danger. Within minutes the Ivorian, quick, lean and explosive, left Facundo Roncaglia for dead with one sway of his hips and sent in a low cross that Van Persie couldn’t quite sweep in at the near post.
Meanwhile, there were warning signs at the other end.
Dario Cvitanich looked to get in behind Arsenal’s centre-back pair and did so twice, only for poor control to scupper Boca on both occasions. Another alarm bell rang when Juan Insaurralde rose virtually unmarked to head a corner just wide.
But all in all chances were at a premium, so much so that the tournament’s first Mexican wave was spotted before the half-hour mark. It had yet to make a lap of the ground when most of the crowd was on its feet to celebrate an Arsenal goal.
Gervinho was the instigator again, springing down the left before sliding a teasing ball into the box for Van Persie to gobble up. The Dutchman still knows where the goal is and clearly he is already on the same wavelength as the Club’s most recent signing.
That was the last we saw of Gervinho but his two cameos in an Arsenal shirt have certainly whetted the appetite. The new boy was one of five to make way at half time as Wenger brought on Carlos Vela, Ramsey, Sebastien Squillaci, Mannone and Marouane Chamakh.
Ramsey has looked in the mood all summer and he needed less than a minute to double Arsenal’s lead. Vela’s mazy run was stopped illegally on the edge of the box but, to his credit, Atkinson played advantage and Ramsey smashed the ball past Agustin Orion. Quite an entrance.
Andrey Arshavin, granted extra time on the pitch to build up his match sharpness, was the next to threaten with a bustling run through the centre and a shot that was blocked.
But Boca emerged from their shell and served notice of what was to come when Viatri forced substitute keeper Mannone into an athletic one-handed tip over.
With 22 minutes left the Argentina international was given another chance and this time he made no mistake. Sebastian Squillaci was robbed in possession and a square pass found Viatri to lash the ball into the top corner.
Suddenly, we had a contest. Boca scented another goal and it came just three minutes later when Mouche got the wrong side of Johan Djourou and evaded Mannone before sliding in the equaliser.
Emmanuel Eboue came off the bench to fire a half-chance wide of the far post as Arsenal went in search of a winner. But Boca finished strongly and Mannone had to scramble to his right to keep out Riquelme’s free kick five minutes from time.
- Fabianski 46
- Jenkinson Yellow Card
- Koscielny 46
- Wilshere 46
- Gervinho 46
- Arshavin 70
- Persie (C) 46 Goal!
- Ramsey 46 Goal!
- Mannone 46
- Chamakh 46
- Eboue 70
- Vela 46
- Squillaci 46
- Sosa 48
- Schiavi 86
- Viatri Goal!
- Insauarralde Yellow Card
- Somoza 89 Yellow Card
- Erviti 78
- Cvitanich 62
- Caruzzo 86
- Rodriguez 48
- Mouche 62 Goal!
- Colazo 78
- Erbes 89