Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Arsenal 5 Benfica 1 (Emirates Cup)

Arsenal hosted an annual Emirates Cup competition again this year after failing to lift the trophy for the past 4 years (in 2012, the tournament was suspended due to the London Olympic Games). The competition offered us a chance to watch Arsenal play at the Emirates for the first time since May 1 and in the new PUMA home kit for the first time. Also, we were excited to see new faces in action after refreshingly busy July in terms of transfer activity.

Team: Martinez, Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal (Miquel 73), Gibbs, Ramsey (Arteta 59), Flamini (Coquelin 59), Rosicky (Wilshere 59), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Cazorla 46), Campbell (Sanchez 73), Sanogo (Akpom 73)

As a new signing, David Ospina was ruled out of the competition through a minor thigh problem (a typical Arsenal player already), Damian Martinez got the nod. What raised our eyebrows was the central defence. Monreal has already played as a centre-back in the pre-season, but pairing with a new signing, Calum Chambers, who is equally unfamiliar to the position looked highly experimental. Nevertheless, it confirmed our belief that Wenger thinks the 19 year-old new singing's future is in the centre back. Interestingly, Arsenal.com's online poll this week revealed that almost the same proportion of fans believe that his future position could be either right-back, centre-back, or central midfield (centre-back is marginal more than the other at 35%). As Per Mertesacker is not likely to play any competitive game before the Champions League qualifier and Vermaelen is officially "injured" at the moment, a centre-back cover is an urgent agenda at the moment. Another new face in the starting line-up was Joel Campbell. This was his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt. After his impressive World Cup adventure with Costa Rica, we were itching to see how he would fit into an Arsenal side.

There were chances on either side at the beginning of the game. Nacho Monreal saw an early yellow card when Benfica looked to break quickly. This was an ominous sign, but Arsenal started commanding possession, the defence was not too much of concern. The hosts gradually found their rhythm and they were knocking on the door. In the 26th minute, Yaya Sanogo finally opened his goal account for Arsenal. Campbell followed the suit in the 40th minute. Thanks to two more goals from Sanogo, Arsenal were 4-0 up at half time. Sanogo added his fourth to the tally in 4 minutes into the second half. But Benfica improved and a number of substitutions on both sides interrupted Arsenal's flow. The introduction of Alexis Sanchez was met with a warm reception from the home crowd, to which the Chilean responded with a smile. Arsenal still managed to keep the pressure on in the latter stages of the second half. Alexis showed flashes of his quality in his cameo appearance, while Ignasi Miquel's header hit the crossbar and Francis Coquelin's effort was denied by the post. 

The team as a whole played well. Arsene Wenger expressed his delight in the post-match press conference. The team played the way he wants them to play. The Frenchman's side attacked en mass. There were always plenty of options in the box. Aaron Ramsey made runs forward from deep, while Hector Bellerin was always involved in attack. One of those runs the Spanish right-back's made led to the second goal via his incisive lofted cross to Campbell.

There are three stand-out players among the team: obviously Sanogo, Campbell and Bellerin. Campbell was lively, posing a constant threat to the Benfica defence. His display was strong enough to convince Wenger. After the match, the Frenchman made it clear that he has no plan to let the Costa Rican striker go on loan again and he wants to keep him at Arsenal.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying afternoon, but with hindsight, if Arsenal had been more ruthless, they could have won the Emirates Cup on Day 1. They took 8 points from this game (3 points for a win plus 1 points from each goal), which appeared to have put the hosts in pole position to lift the trophy, but it wasn't enough.

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