By Richard Clarke at the RheinEnergie Stadion, Cologne
Gervinho marked his Arsenal debut by scoring twice as Arsenal beat FC Cologne 2-1 on Saturday afternoon.
The Ivorian striker was on the pitch just 29 minutes but his appearance dominated proceedings. He lifted home a shot from Jack Wilshere’s perceptive pass in the opening stages and turned home Theo Walcott’s cross on the quarter-hour.
His collision with keeper Michael Rensing in scoring the second probably prompted his substitution on the half-hour. But this is no time for taking chances with injuries and the striker happily watched the second half from the sidelines with his team-mates.
Carl Jenkinson’s freakish own goal had given Cologne a route back just before the break. This open, lively friendly continued to entertain after the restart. Both sides had their chances but Arsenal deserved to hold on to the lead provided by the former Lille striker.
On the strength of today’s cameo, Arsene Wenger has spotted another diamond in the rough.
Just before he left for Germany, Wenger had told Arsenal Player that this was the end of Phase One in pre-season training. But, with all due respect to the Malaysia XI and Hangzhou Greentown, the standard of opposition was about to step up.
Cologne had been happily mid-table in the Bundesliga for the past couple of seasons and boasted the mighty Lukas Podolski. Age just 26, the forward has already amassed an incredible 89 caps and 42 goals for his country.
Over 40,000 supporters were expected at the RheinEnergie Stadium this afternoon and all of them were silent pre-match in remembrance of the lives lost in Oslo the previous day.
With respect duly paid, the match got underway and after just three minutes Cologne had a chance. Podolski was bundled over just outside the area and Milivoje Novakovic curled the resulting free-kick inches above the bar.
But that was only the prelude to Arsenal taking the lead. In the seventh minute, Wilshere’s lofted pass allowed Gervinho to ghost inside Pedro Geromel and lift the ball over the advancing keeper.
A classy finish and, just maybe, the portent of goals to come.
This was a lively open game and, though Arsenal were the more incisive, Cologne were equally adventurous.
After 10 minutes Novakovic slipped a reverse ball to the unmarked Podolski, who dragged his shot across the goal of Wojciech Szczesny.
Then Thomas Vermaelen stole the ball in midfield and fed Gervinho on the left. The Belgian drove into the area and only the toe of Geromel stopped him converting from the Ivorian’s return ball.
Cologne were under the kosh and never truly cleared lines before they conceded a second goal in the 17th minute.
In truth, Wilshere’s pass should never have found Walcott on the right but Andrezinho allowed the ball to run under his foot. That said, the Englishman’s low, angled cross was wonderfully weighted and Gervinho stole in to clip the ball past Rensing.
The keeper got a knock for his trouble and was immediately replaced by Miro Varvodic.
Cologne had been rattled by the double blow and, though decent going forward, they were hesitant at the back.
It took Geromel and Youssef Mohamad to clear Walcott’s regulation cross into the box. Then the Englishman supplied another ball for Alex Song, whose cheeky, goalbound backheel was charged down.
On the half-hour, Gervinho went off. The second goal seemed to have taken another victim and so Ryo Miyaichi came on.
It did not affect the tide immediately. Soon afterwards Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey both had shots saved.
But, as half time approached, Cologne began creating chances. Szczesny saved from Adil Chihi and Novakovic had a drive blocked from Andrezinho’s clever knock down.
Then Ramsey’s quick free-kick fell into Cologne’s possession and Novakovic’s overhead kick was batted away by the keeper.
Despite the increasing confidence of the home side, the goal they grabbed in first-half injury time was hardly their own handywork. Jenkinson tried to clear a long punt forward but got it horribly wrong. The ball flew high into the air, over the head of the scrambling Szczesny and into the net.
Wenger made 10 changes at the break; only Kieran Gibbs stayed on. Andrey Arshavin went close with a couple of trademark piledrivers and, at the other end, keeper Vito Mannone snatched the ball of the toe of Podolski after Mato Jajalo’s scooped pass had given him a scent of a opening.
It was still a wonderfully open game and, buoyed by that freak goal, Cologne fancied an equaliser. Jajalo darted inside and Johan Djourou threw himself in to block from close range.
Tomas Rosicky’s drive stung the hands of Varvodic and, 13 minutes from time, Arshavin appeared to be clipped in the area.
The Russian then saw a shot batted away as Arsenal tried to secure the victory. But Cologne’s challenge now appeared to be flagging and the visitors held on with ease.
Despite the late injury to Conor Henderson that saw the Irishman stretchered off in the final second, this was a gratifying afternoon for Arsenal.
Referee: Christian Fischer‎
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