Alexander Hleb took barely 120 seconds to make his mark as Arsenal romped to a 4-1 victory at Barnet on Saturday in the opening game of their pre-season campaign.
The Belarussian midfielder squeezed home a shot in the second minute to give Arsène Wenger's side the lead. It opened the floodgates for an all-star Arsenal XI in the first half. Thierry Henry stroked home from the spot after Jose Antonio Reyes had been fouled, Dennis Bergkamp curled home a cracker and Justin Hoyte tapped in from close range.
Wholesale changes at the break sucked the wind from Arsenal's sails and Dean Sinclair grabbed a consolation goal for the Conference champions with 16 minutes left.
However, as work-outs go, this was highly welcome. It was decent entertainment in front of a decent crowd against decent opposition who never gave up. Arsenal now leave for Austria and Amsterdam. Their next first-team game on British soil will be the Community Shield on August 7.
This fixture has become a tradition in recent years and, as usual, Wenger sprinkled his squad with first-teamers and Reserves in equal measure.
Of course, there was no Patrick Vieira after his transfer to Juventus on Thursday but most of the side who lifted the FA Cup in May started the game. However there were two unfamiliar faces, aside from new boy Hleb.
The more established of pair was Philippe Christanval, who began the game at centre back. The 26-year-old, who is on a week's trial at Highbury, has an excellent pedigree. After four years with Monaco he enjoyed a fruitful spell with Barcelona which saw him capped six times by France. Injury disrupted his return to France with Marsielle and he left them by mutual consent at the end of June. The other new name was Vito Mannone, a 17-year-old keeper who has joined the Club from Atalanta.
Arsenal's only major signing of the summer so far needed little time to make his presence felt on sweltering afternoon at Underhill. After just two minutes Hleb took the ball from Henry on the corner of the six-yard box and looked to lay it off. With no option available (and no Barnet defender closing him down) he swivelled to send a low shot between the keeper and the near post.
Arsenal were soon stroking the ball around. Bergkamp had a header saved and a deflected shot from Reyes was parried well by Ross Flitney. On the quarter-hour, Barnet mustered their first chance. A corner broke to Ian Hendon who crossed deep to the far post. Anthony Charles' header was saved by Mark Howard and Ben Strevens sent the rebound off the angle of post and bar.
The visitors went straight up the other end and scored. Reyes fouled by Simon King and Henry thumped home the penalty with aplomb. It continued to be one-way traffic and Bergkamp produced one of his trademark strikes just before the half-hour when he finished a sweeping move by arcing a shot over Flitney and in off the bar.
It was stating to be become a stroll in the sun. Strevens force Howard into a fine block in the 35th minute and but, once again, Arsenal responded immediately when Pires squared for Hoyte to stab home from close range. Reyes nearly made it five just before the break but Flitney stretched his frame well and diverted the effort wide.
Wenger brought on six youngsters at the break and Arturo Lupoli immediately took the eye with a couple early chances. However the pace of the first half could not be maintained and the game fell into a lull.
The Italian had a third chance on the hour after Pires poked a pass through for him to race onto. Again Flitney pulled off a fine block.
In the 70th minute, David Bentley's skilfully worked his way into space before setting up Anthony Stokes with a superb cross. The Irish striker missed from six-yards with the goal gaping.
Barnet made them pay in the 74th minute when Dean Sinclair cracked home a left-foot side from the just inside the area.
It was the final act of a satisfactory afternoon.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.