By Richard Clarke
Arsenal gave themselves a great chance of winning the inaugural Emirates Cup with a 2-1 win over Paris St-Germain on Saturday.
The format of this new tournament awards three points for a win, one for a draw and one for each goal scored. Valencia took five points from the first game of the afternoon with a 2-0 win over Inter. Arsenal victory's in the second game mirrors that tally however they are second in the table on goal difference.
Arsène Wenger's side play the Italians on Sunday in the final game of the tournament so they will have the luxury of knowing exactly what is required to lift this trophy for the first time.
In all honesty, PSG bossed the game in the first half and were unfortunate to find themselves trailing when Mathieu Flamini crashed home a close-range effort on the whistle. Arsenal were much improved after the break and doubled their advantage in the 70th minute when Nicklas Bendtner's scored from Denilson's corner.
Peguy Luyindula reduced the arrears with 10 minutes to go but Bendtner's late penalty could have put Arsenal top of the midway table. Unfortunately it was easily saved.
Though, as it stands, Wenger will be content with a decent performance and a win. An impressive crowd of 55,106 certainly seemed to be happy with their afternoon's entertainment.
Emirates Stadium filled up nicely for the arrival of the hosts. Nine days hard work in Austria had cost Arsenal the services of Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky for the weekend. Meanwhile Eduardo was still awaiting his work permit.
It meant Wenger had little choice but to pair Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner up front. Bacary Sagna got his first run-out at Emirates and, for once, Arsenal played without a proper wide man. Denilson and Cesc Fabregas patrolled the middle with Abou Diaby on the left and Mathieu Flamini on the right.
The lack of genuine pace down the flanks did nothing to help Arsenal settle in the opening stages. In fact it took 15 minutes for either side to carve out a chance worthy of note and then it was the visitors who took the initiative. Luyindula found space on the right and crossed low for Pierre-Alain Frau to thump a low shot past Almunia's right-hand post.
Seven minutes later, Sylvain Armand cut the ball inside to Jeremy Clement on the edge of the area. He neatly played the ball into the path of Luyindula, who wastefully clipped the ball past the far post. Up to this point, Arsenal had offered precious little going forward. Their most incisive attacker had been left back Gael Clichy, who had rampaged into the area on a couple of occasions.
In the 24th minute Arsenal got themselves on the chance-sheet if not the score-sheet. Van Persie's electrifying run was abruptly halted by Armand and the Dutchman picked himself up to crack the free-kick just over the bar.
Pauleta weaved in from the right and thumped a shot into Almunia's chest. Then seven minutes before the break Jerome Rothen sent a free kick to the far post and Didier Disgard's spectacular effort had to be tipped over the bar by Almunia. From the corner Zoumana Camara flicked a header wide of the far post.
Arsenal were still struggling to find any kind of attacking rhythm while PSG were carving out by far the better chances.
But on the stroke of half time, Arsenal scored. Clichy floated a ball into the area, Bendtner chested it down and the stumbling Flamini hooked the ball home off the upright.
There was a delicious irony about the goal. All last term Arsenal had dominated teams at Emirates Stadium only to concede sucker-punch strike. Yet in the first home game of this season, the had inflicted exactly that on their opponents.
Wenger changed five players at half time. Perhaps the most interesting move saw Emmanuel Eboue stationed in front of full back Justin Hoyte on the right. Alex Hleb replaced Van Persie and was pushed into a more attacking role through the centre as Arsenal moved from a traditional 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1.
For once the plethora of changes seemed to settle Arsenal. They enjoyed their first spell of sustained pressure in the opening quarter of the second half, creating a couple of half-chances along the way.
Frau's burst into the area just before the hour suggested PSG might have something left. But William Gallas snuffed out the danger. Shortly afterwards Bendtner latched on to Clichy's ball through, outpaced Camara but could only steer his shot past the far post.
The Dane would make amends midway through the second half. PSG defender Sammy Traore deflected a low cross past his own post with Bendtner breathing down his neck. Denilson swung over the corner and the 19-year-old met the ball with a towering downward header. It hit Traore and rebounded for Bendtner to stab home from close range. He celebrated Shearer-like with one arm raised. It was the perfect way to announce his return from a successful year on loan at Birmingham.
Almost immediately, Almunia made a fine low save from Pauleta at the far post. After a sluggish start both sides seemed determined to put on a show in the latter stages.
Therefore it was no surprise when Frau reached the byline with 10 minutes left and crossed low for Luyindula to convert at the near post.
Arsenal should have restored their two-goal advantage seven minutes before the end when Hleb was brought down in the area. However Bendtner's penalty was weak and Mickael Landreau saved easily.
- Sagna 46
- Clichy 71
- Toure 46
- Fabregas 46
- Flamini 46 Goal!
- Bendtner Goal!
- Persie 46
- Gallas 46
- Eboue 46
- Hoyte 46
- Traore 46
- Hleb 46
- Randall 71
- Mulumbu 74
- Luyindula Goal!
- Ngoyi 74