By Richard Clarke at the Bukit Julil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur
Arsenal cruised to victory in the opening game of their Asia Tour on Wednesday night in front of a crowd approaching 70,000.
In the sweltering heat of Kuala Lumpur, a Malaysia XI found them simply too hot to handle.
Malaysia XI had carried a threat in the first half, mainly thanks to the pace of left winger Kunanlan Subramaniam. But they fell away as the game wore on. Tomas Rosicky even added a fourth at the death.
This was Arsenal’s first game in Malaysia since 1999. Back then Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka had secure a solid 2-0 victory.
The current crop leave for China on Thursday on the second leg of the Tour.
But, having seen them in the flesh, we can hope the Club have left a lasting legacy for the Malaysia people. From their fervent support it is clear they knew all about Arsenal before they arrived.
Hopefully this game will leave some happy memories once the team has gone.
The Bukit Jalil Stadium had erupted when the Arsenal team came out to warm-up. And the decibel levels went up 10 fold as the side emerged from the tunnel for the game.
Wearing the 125th anniversary away kit for the first time, Wenger’s XI side waved their ‘hellos’. After a week of welcome from this friendly country, they were very accustomed to the response they received.
The atmosphere was a heavy mixture of excitement, adulation and sweltering heat. In effect, the Malaysia XI was a squad from the national team. This was the first of three games against top quality Premier League opposition - Liverpool and Chelsea are due up soon - so head coach Datuk Rajagobal was managing his resources.
Mohd Safee Mohd Sali, the golden boy of Malaysia football, began on the bench. But playmaker and captain Safiq Rahim would be patrolling the midfield.
The game had barely settled when Arsenal took the lead. In the fifth minute, Mohd Aidil Zafuan clipped Jack Wilshere as he darted down the left of the area. Ramsey was perhaps a surprising choice of penalty-taker but he was cool enough to send the keeper the wrong way.
Almost immediately it might have been 2-0 when Walcott popped up on the right but lifted his effort over the bar.
Malaysia attacks were sporadic - and mostly through the pacy Subramaniam. But any foray forward was greeted with rapturous applause. The crowd was 80 per cent Arsenal shirts but this was very much a national party.
Walcott’s pace continued to bother the home defence as did Ramsey’s movement and vision. When the two talents were combined, Arsenal were at their best.
Midway through the half, Marouane Chamakh fed Walcott on the edge of the area but the striker lost the ball at the vital moment.
Malaysia had peppered Wojciech Szczesny’s goal with long-range shots throughout so it was no surprise when Rahim tried his luck with a right wing free-kick. The tall Polish keeper stretched to tip it over but, in fairness, always had it covered.
The pace of Subramaniam was still the main weapon for Malaysia. However Jenkinson was handling him well. Chamakh drifted a header past the far post on the half-hour. In response, Ahmad Fakri Saarani tried to nod past Szczesny but the keeper blocked and the flag was up.
In the 37th minute Arsenal did grab that second. And, yet again, the Ramsey-Walcott axis worked. The Welshman sent an astute angled ball through to the sprinting Englishman. He lifted his shot over the keeper.
Seconds later, Walcott reached the byline and his searching cut back had to be hurriedly hacked clear. As the whistle approached, Arsenal were cruising. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was a technical advantage but the visitors had taken control in the first 45 minutes without ever truly moving out of second gear.
Wenger made eight changes at the interval. Only Ramsey, Miyiachi and Jenkinson stayed on.
In the opening eight minutes both sides had a decent chance. Vela touched back Rosicky’s ball for Ramsey to race through and thunder his shot inches over the bar.
Shortly afterwards, Vito Mannone was penalised for holding on to the ball too long. Malaysia XI were awarded an indirect free-kick inside the area but the wall held firm from Rahim’s drive.
In the 57th minute, Arsenal’s quality told once again. Rosicky released Vela on the left of the area and, in typical style, the Mexican hoist a cheeky chip beyond the reach of the stranded keeper and into the far corner of the net.
With the job done, Wenger brought on two of his most experienced players - Robin van Persie and Bacary Sagna.
It was time for Arsenal to kick on. Vela should have made it four but, after collecting Johan Djourou’s pass and beating a couple of men, his shot hit a defender who had time to race back to the line.
Rosicky hacked over soon afterwards but made amends by grabbing the fourth in added time.
At the final whistle, the crowd erupted again and the team said their goodbyes.
As a game, this was average. As a spectacle, it was superb. If the Asia tour is about spreading the word of Arsenal, then this particular message was sent out loud and clear.
- Szczesny 45
- Koscielny 45
- Vermaelen (C) 45
- Jenkinson 66
- Gibbs 45
- Song 45
- Wilshere 45
- Ramsey 66 Goal!
- Miyaichi 66
- Walcott 45 Goal!
- Chamakh 45
- Mannone 45
- Sagna 66
- Squillaci 45
- Djourou 45
- Traore 45
- Denilson 66 45
- Frimpong 45
- Nasri 66
- Rosicky 45 Goal!
- Arshavin 66
- Persie 66
- Vela 45 Goal!
- Nourdin 45
- Rahim 74
- Putra 59
- Zafuan 42
- Subramaniam 68
- Jasuli 61
- Talaha 63
- Remeli 61
- Govandar 74
- Saad 63
- Ahmad 42
- Muslin 59
- Mat 45
- Suppiah 68