By Richard Clarke at the National Stadium, Beijing
Arsenal went down 2-0 to Manchester City in their prestige friendly at the 'Bird’s Nest' Stadium in China on Friday night.
This was the stand-out fixture of the Club’s tour to Asia - a match against the Premier League champions in the symbolic home of the Beijing Olympics just hours before London games officially got underway.
It was one of those matches where you just felt honoured to be involved; a spectacle that would resonate around the globe.
And, despite the scoreline, Arsenal put in a decent performance. They were more or less dominant from the midway point of the first half and forced a string of fine saves from Manchester City keeper Costel Pantilimon. In addition, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was cruelly denied when his long-range shot hit both posts before bouncing out.
However, Manchester City took their chances. They won the game with goals from Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure inside three minutes just before the break.
Arsenal would have to settle for silver in this competition.
Still, this was a competitive friendly and one that will benefit Wenger’s team.
But the match was played in front of an estimated 60,000 fans so it also helped extend the ‘Arsenal family’ further into Asia.
It was hot and sweltering at the National Stadium as the team entered this iconic arena on a very special night. The Winoly Cup was billed as “From Beijing to London”. The symbolism was obvious. Even en route to the pitch, the player had to walk across the 100 metre track upon which Usain Bolt had created history four years earlier.
Wenger started with a strong XI as Gervinho filled the central role in attack and Andre Santos was employed in front of Kieran Gibbs on the left-hand side.
Like Arsenal, Manchester City were without the Euro 2012 stars but Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and the Toure brothers all began the game.
Mancini’s men were off to Malaysia after this game. Of course, Arsenal had started their Asian adventure there but they would move on to Hong Kong straight after this game.
Arsenal were marginally the better side in the opening stages with Theo Walcott the liveliest influence.
On the quarter-hour, Aleksandar Kolarov cut inside from the left but his drive was blocked. Gervinho raced down the other end and nudged Walcott into space. However, Kolo Toure crowded out the Englishman.
It was early in pre-season and the heat sweltering, so this game was never going to be of Premier League pace - although chances did start flow midway through the half.
Carl Jenkinson’s drive was snaffled wide by Pantilimon and Santos looped a shot wide. Kyle Bartley blocked the younger Toure from bulldozering through, then Jenkinson managed to deflect Aguero’s shot over the bar.
Walcott was still Arsenal’s livewire. He had a shot charged down after Santos set him up and then whistled an effort wide from distance.
The Brazilian himself then forced a good save from Pantilimon.
Arsenal were starting the dominate so the quick double just before half time was hard to take.
Both goals originated down the left. First Nir Biton and Yaya Toure set up Zabaleta to fire home at the fire post.
Then Kolarov swept a ball to the same place and Aguero nudged the ball back for Toure to slide home another.
The whistle went seconds later. Arsenal deserved to be in a much better position at the halfway stage.
Wenger took off Mikel Arteta, Bartley, Walcott and Abou Diaby at the break as the heavens opened and a rain storm began. Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Marouane Chamakh and Oxlade-Chamberlain came on.
Despite that double blow at the end of the first half, Arsenal were still the aggressors and Pantilimon had to make a smart save from Gervinho early on.
Arsenal had done everything but score this evening and, in the 56th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain proved the point when he let fly from 25 yards.
The ball beat Pantilimon, hit the inside of his left-hand post and then smashed off the other before bouncing out. Incredibly unlucky.
The crowd had been loud and utterly engaged throughout but the Premier League this was not. Midway through a sweltering second half, there were torrents of rain and thunder claps while an enthusiastic Mexican Wave circled the arena.
Arsenal still pressed and Manchester City were now satisfied to play on the break. It caused moments of alarm, like when Tevez setup Aguero with 21 minutes left. The latter lifted his shot wide.
Chuks Aneke had been eye-catching since his introduction midway through the second half. In the 72nd minute his drive forced Pantilimon into a fine save low to his left. Gibbs did likewise on the opposite side a few minutes later.
The Manchester City keeper had been busy this evening; an indication of Arsenal’s dominance in all but the scoreline. However, Mancini’s side had been much more clinical.
Craig Eastmond and Oxlade-Chamberlain both went close in the dying stages as Wenger’s men kept pushing forward.
But a combination of the Manchester City defence, Pantilimon and the woodwork had kept Arsenal at bay this evening.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Bartley 46
- Jenkinson 65
- Arteta 46
- Diaby 46
- Santos 58
- Song 77
- Walcott 46
- Gervinho 65
- Miquel 46
- Coquelin 46
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 46
- Aneke 65
- Eastmond 65
- Eisfeld 77
- Afobe 58
- Chamakh 46
- Kompany (C) 57
- Zabaleta Goal!
- Toure 77 Goal!
- Razak 88
- Tevez 84
- Aguero 90
- Suarez 88
- Evans 84
- Boyata 57
- Lopes 90
- Johnson 77