By Rob Kelly at Meadow Park
Arsenal kicked off their pre-season campaign with a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Boreham Wood at Meadow Park on Saturday.
Playing their first game since their FA Cup victory at Wembley in May, the Gunners were given a searching examination by a determined and well-organised home side.
They had to wait until the 68th minute to open the scoring when Kris Olsson finished confidently from a beautifully-weighted Tomas Rosicky pass.
The lively Chuba Akpom twice went close as Arsenal’s fresher legs began to tell on a hot afternoon, and five minutes from the end they won a penalty after Benik Afobe was barged over. The 21-year-old swept the spot kick home himself.
The first half had been a more low-key affair, with Yaya Sanogo having the best two opportunities - only to be denied by Boreham Wood goalkeeper James Russell each time.
In the end it came down to Olsson and Afobe to seal the win on what proved to be a useful opening workout of pre-season for Arsene Wenger’s men.
SETTING THE SCENE
Some 63 days on from their dramatic victory at Wembley, this was a much-anticipated return to action for the Gunners at a balmy Meadow Park.
Prior to kick off, the hosts officially opened the 890-capacity West Stand to the public, while Wenger’s side had a couple of things to unveil themselves - namely their new PUMA away kit and the FA Cup trophy.
With Arsenal’s World Cup stars not yet back in training, the manager opted for a mix of youth and experience in his starting XI. Alongside first-team regulars Wojciech Szczesny and Aaron Ramsey, the likes of Gedion Zelalem, Semi Ajayi and Isaac Hayden had a chance to stake their claim.
Perhaps most intriguing was the surprise inclusion of precocious teenage winger Chris Willock on the left flank.
More experienced campaigners like Kieran Gibbs, Rosicky and Abou Diaby were all on the bench ahead of a half-time reshuffle.
Initially Arsenal picked up from where they had left off at Wembley, spraying the ball about confidently and barely giving the hosts a touch in a dominant opening spell.
Nine minutes in, Yaya Sanogo was presented with a golden chance to open the scoring after fine work by Jon Toral, but Boreham Wood keeper Russell made a smart stop to deny him.
That opportunity seemed to spur the Conference South side to life and moments later Matthew Whichelow curled one just wide after a quick counter.
The game soon settled into a natural rhythm, with Wenger’s side on the front foot but up against a well-organised, compact home side intent on denying them time and space.
Indeed, they had to wait until the half-hour for their next real chances of note as firstly Ramsey arrowed a drive just wide, before Toral curled a low effort inches past the post.
Sanogo again went close before the interval after pouncing on a defensive error, but Russell was equal to the French striker’s effort once more.
An entirely fresh Arsenal side started the second half, with the new-look backline having something of a Spanish feel with Hector Bellerin, Julio Pleguezuelo and Ignasi Miquel alongside each other.
There was also the welcome sight of Diaby patrolling the midfield, the France international hoping for a full pre-season with which to prove his fitness ahead of the new campaign.
The 28-year-old would prove an influential presence, and he nearly opened the scoring with a rasping drive that Russell tipped over the bar. In fact, the Boreham Wood keeper’s heroics soon drew chants of ‘Sign him up’ from the travelling fans after he palmed over a fierce Akpom strike moments later.
Finally the deadlock was broken in the 68th minute when Rosicky played a delightful through ball to Olsson in the area, and he impudently dinked the ball over Russell and in.
The lively Akpom caught the eye with some powerful runs on the left flank, and with nine minutes remaining he came close to doubling Arsenal’s advantage with a curling shot that Russell did well to palm over.
Five minutes from the end, the second goal finally came as Afobe slotted home from the spot after being pushed over in the area by Luke Garrard. That proved enough to secure a hard-fought win.
Now on to the Big Apple, and a date with Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls side.
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