By Richard Clarke in the Meihu Stadium, Yiwu
Arsenal were held to a draw by Hangzhou Greentown as they completed their Asia Tour on Saturday night.
Sebastien Vasquez put the side from the Chinese Super League in front on the quarter-hour but Carlos Vela prodded the visitors level just before the break.
After a slow start, Arsène Wenger’s side had the better of the second half but spurned a number of chances, with Theo Walcott the main culprit.
Try as they might, they never found a winner but the result, of course, is pretty inconsequential. This Asian adventure has been about making friends as much as making goals. That is why they wore shirts with Chinese player names on the back this evening.
It also means the crowd figure - a healthy 20,583 - was just as important as the scoreline.
Arsenal have represented themselves well on this trip - on and off the pitch. When the final whistle blew this evening, they warmly thanked their supporters, as they have all week, and headed off to the airport.
The pre-season preparations will continue in more familiar surroundings from now on. But, as a result of their efforts in the past few days, many more people out here are familiar with the name of Arsenal Football Club.
The heavens opened in Yiwu a couple of hours before kick-off. Hangzhou were playing two hours outside their home city while their own ground was being renovated. However the Meihu Stadium was an open, modern venue and the pitch stood up well to the deluge.
Hangzhou are a fixture in the Chinese Super League after gaining promotion in 2006 and finished fourth in 2010. Their squad was primarily from the home country with a couple of Uruguayans and Hondurans thrown in.
As for Arsenal, it was the final day of a fruitful but taxing trip to Asia and freshness was clearly a factor in the team selection. The second half side in Malaysia began this evening and none would stay on after half time.
The best early chances went to the home side. In the fourth minute Vazquez bundled through but Vito Mannone saved with his legs. On the quarter-hour the Italian was beaten when Paulo Pezzolano evaded Johan Djourou’s challenge, opened his body and stroked a shot towards the far corner. Fortunately for Arsenal it bounced off the base of the post and the visitors scrambled the ball clear.
But the goal was close. In the 17th minute a free-kick bounced off Mannone’s chest and fell nicely for Vazquez to slot home from close range. It was a deserved lead.
Arsenal nearly replied immediately when Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri drove forward to set up Robin van Persie on the left. The Dutchman’s chip was too high for keeper Jiang Bo but too wide to find the net.
Just after the half-hour, the Russian clipped in a cross from the left and Van Persie cracked a spectacular effort over the bar.
It was an indication that Arsenal were settling into their rhythm. Hangzhou had bossed the first 15 minutes but the second quarter-hour had seen the Premier League side exert their experience.
Just before the break, substitute Wu Wei had to head Samir Nasri’s corner over his own crossbar to prevent Sebastian Squillaci heading home.
On the whistle, Arsenal did force the equaliser when Van Persie weaved his way into the Hangzhou area and, after his shot was parried, Vela tapped home the rebound.
Wenger changed his entire XI at the break and Arsenal were all the better for it. There was suddenly a purpose and drive behind their attacks. As a consequence they pushed back Hangzhou.
Just past the hour, Aaron Ramsey’s shot squirmed under the body of Gu Chao but the keeper’s block had been solid enough to divert the ball wide. The defence did the rest.
A couple of minutes later, Ryo Miyaichi laid the ball back for Kieran Gibbs to fire goalwards but Chao parried again.
Theo Walcott and Marouane Chamakh went close as Arsenal started to slice their way through the Hangzhou defence.
In the 70th minute, Gibbs and Jack Wilshere set up Walcott on the right. His first effort was blocked and his second flew over the bar.
The Englishman was starting to get on the end of all Arsenal’s chances but he could not convert. He has two efforts in quick succession - the first was tipped around the post by Chao, the second was drilled wide.
Five minutes from time, another chance fell to Walcott. Miyaichi burst to the byline and chipped the ball into the centre. The England international timed his run well but his header was high.
In the 88th minute, Chamakh saw another drive beaten away and Hangzhou nearly profited. Mao Jianqing raced down the left and his hanging cross was nodded just wide by Pezzolano.
Miyaichi had one last chance but the goal would not come.
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