By Richard Clarke at Toyota Stadium, Japan
Arsenal maintained their 100 per cent record on the Asia tour with a comprehensive 3-1 win over Nagoya Grampus on Monday.
There were always going to be two strong narratives surrounding this game - the homecomings of Arsène Wenger and Ryo.
While the manager received the warmest of ovations before and after the game, perhaps the biggest cheer went to Arsenal’s 20-year-old winger, who fired home his first goal for the Club from the penalty spot midway through the first half.
The visitors had gone ahead after only three minutes when Olivier Giroud powered in his sixth goal of the tour. Just before the hour mark, Theo Walcott converted an exquisite through ball from Gedion Zelalem.
Kisho Yano headed home a consolation goal with 19 minutes remaining. Soon after that it was confirmed that the crowd of 42,919 was new record at Toyota Stadium.
Both were met more cheers - and that was the story of this very ‘friendly’ friendly.
The favourites did not fluff their lines but the home side played their part - and the two principal actors had starring roles.
And now he drama of the Arsenal Tour 2013 moves on to its last location for its final act - the Saitama Cup against Urawa Reds.
While Arsenal were still working through their pre-season paces, Grampus were in the middle of their campaign.
They are 12th in the 18-team J League under coach Dragan StojkoviÄ?, a celebrated player who had been the midfield hub of the side when Wenger departed in 1996.
The two remain firm friends and their joint press conference ahead of this game was full of mutual admiration.
The knock collected by Laurent Koscielny in open training on the eve of the game meant Bacary Sagna started at centre back. Meanwhile it was Ryo’s first start since breaking his leg in an FA Cup quarter-final last March during his loan spell at Wigan.
With due respect to previous opponents, it was expected that this would be a more challenging test for an Arsenal side that had run-in 14 goals in their previous 180 minutes.
However the scoring spree would continue on a hot, muggy night in Nagoya - and quickly.
With barely 150 seconds on the clock, Tomas Rosicky sent over a delightful hanging cross for Giroud to power home a header. It was the Frenchman’s sixth goal in just 68 minutes of football.
Within five minutes, Walcott had passable penalty shout turned down and Ryo dragged his shot inches past the post.
Arsenal continued their domination for 20 minutes before Grampus finally found a toe-hold. The closest they came to scoring was when Sagna swiftly swept the ball away from Joshua Kennedy as he burst through.
However, in the 26th minute Arsenal would double their lead. Walcott led the breakaway and fed Giroud in the area. When the Frenchman tried to return the favour, Tulio Tanaka clipped him.
Mikel Arteta picked up the ball and looked like he was going to fulfil his usual duty from the spot. However, he handed the ball to Ryo who lashed home confidently.
It was all Arsenal again and, just after the half-hour, it should have been 3-0 when Rosicky’s pinpoint ball released Walcott. The England international weaved his way into position but drove his effort against the legs of keeper Seigo Narazaki.
Despite their total control, Arsenal were almost pegged back on the whistle. Kennedy’s pass beat the stretching Mertesacker and Yoshizumi Ogawa went clear. However he held his head in his hands after scuffing a weak effort at Lukasz Fabianski.
Grampus would enjoy more pressure after the restart, despite Wenger making four changes. Kennedy flashed a header wide and fired over then Keiji Tamada’s shot was charged down Mertesacker.
However, the revival stalled with Walcott clipped home a third following a defence-splitting pass from Zelalem.
That goal sandwiched a couple of chances by Serge Gnabry, one self-created with a mazy dribble, the other fired into the sidenetting following Walcott’s ball.
It seemed an unassailable lead, Arsenal merely had to maintain it with their limbs understandably tiring. Nineteen minutes from time, Grampus grabbed a goal when the impressive Hayuma Tanaka fired over a cross and substitute Kisho Yano powered home a header.
Neither side mustered much after that and Wenger’s speech to the crowd afterwards displayed genuine warmth.
It was returned from the stands of the Toyota Stadium on a feelgood night of the Arsenal Tour 2013.
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