Arsenal ended their pre-season campaign in fine style with a comprehensive 3-1 win over Manchester City in Helsinki.
Although Alvaro Negredo would fire a consolation for Manchester City with ten minutes remaining, Arsenal deservedly held on as they had shown the greater invention in front of a capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium.
With just a week to go until the big kick-off, this was a proper test of Arsène Wenger’s side and they came through with merit.
They were organised and resilient against a Manchester City side who created pressure but relatively few chances.
Roll on next Saturday.
At his pre-match press conference, Wenger had promised to field “close” to the side that would start the Premier League opener against Aston Villa. In the end, you could argue he might have actually named it.
The only debate was the central forward position and the knock-on effects of that decision. This afternoon, Lukas Podolski was through the middle with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left and Walcott wide on the right.
Giroud, the top-scorer in pre-season, began on the bench. Alongside him was Sebastian Perez, a 20-year-old midfielder from Colombia who was on trial from Atletico Nacional.
Manchester City were at full strength, starting with new signings Fernandinho and Negredo.
They bossed the opening minutes, pushing back Arsenal, who were thankful when Per Mertesacker twice snuffed out the threat of David Silva.
The first moment of real quality would break the deadlock and it would come from Ramsey. Deep in midfield, the Welshman threaded an astute reverse pass to Walcott, who had caught Gael Clichy napping. The winger raced through and clipped his shot over Joe Hart and into the top corner.
The goal changed the tone of the game and Arsenal started to pass the ball crisply.
However, yet again, where the blues had pressure, the yellows had chances. Midway through the half, Arsenal nearly grabbed a second when Bacary Sagna’s long-range drive was tipped against the base of the post by Hart.
Manchester City still had their moments – Edin Dzeko shot was kicked away by Szczesny and Negredo’s dangerous low cross was cleared by Koscielny.
But, at the break, the balance of play was about level yet Arsenal had the lead.
Each side made three changes at the break. For Arsenal, Lukasz Fabianski, Santi Cazorla and Giroud replaced Szczesny, Wilshere and Podolski. For Manchester City, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and Micah Richards came on.
The changes seemed to be more beneficial to Pellegrini’s side. Fabianski twice saved at the feet of Negredo. The summer signing from Sevilla then fired wide.
However, once again, after a bright start from Manchester City, it was Arsenal who profited.
They scored twice inside three minutes, both from expert assists by Walcott. Just before the hour, he sent Ramsey scuttling clear. The Welshman capped a fine match by rounding Hart and slipping home his shot.
Then Walcott released Giroud through the middle for the striker to lift his shot over Hart and into the net. It was his eighth of the pre-season campaign.
The double blast seemed to suck the life out of Manchester City and another raft of substitutes did not help their cohesion. For their part, Wenger brought on Perez for Arteta.
Then just after Giroud’s goal had been ruled out for offside, Arsenal made more changes. It brought about one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon as Carl Jenkinson replaced Sagna. The former is, of course, half-Finnish and represented the country at age-group level.
Negredo, the best of the Manchester City forwards, fired wide with ferocity and, ten minutes from time, held off Koscielny to slide a shot past Fabianski.
However they could not muster a late challenge as Arsenal held on for a morale-boosting victory upon which to start their competitive campaign.
- Szczesny 46
- Sagna 73
- Arteta (C) 67
- Wilshere 46
- Ramsey 88 Goal!
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 73
- Walcott Goal!
- Podolski 46
- Hayden 88
- Giroud 46 Goal!
- Jenkinson 73
- Zelalem 73
- Cazorla 46
- Perez 67 Yellow Card
- Fabianski 46
- Lescott 85
- Zabaleta 46
- Kompany (C) Yellow Card
- Milner 46
- Toure 67
- Silva 67
- Fernandinho 79
- Dzeko 46
- Negredo Goal!
- Navas 46
- Richards 46
- Garcia 67
- Rodwell 79
- Boyata 85
- Nasri 46
- Jovetic 67