Between two bids for Luis Suarez and a numbers of attempts from Brendan Rodgers to do the alchemist thing and persuade his best player that somehow Liverpool are a better team than Arsenal despite being averaging 13 points behind Arsenal since 2009-10, Arsenal had their last game of the Asia Tour. Their opponents were the toughest on the schedule – Urawa Reds.
Arsene Wenger made some changes to the team that won the match against Nagoya with Laurent Koscielny passing a late fitness test and Jack Wilshere also selected. Sagna moved to right full-back which meant Jenkinson dropped to the bench.
The Japanese side had the first shot of the game but an attempt from the left wing – that Wilshere tried to break with a tackle but didn’t succeed – didn’t have enough curl to reach the goal. Our response came through Walcott. He advanced through the middle with Oxlade-Chamberlain coming inside and Giroud on the left. Walcott didn’t pass the ball but opted for a slalom run through the home defense instead and sent the placed left-footed shot but, unfortunately, the ball hit the post. It deflected to Giroud who cut it back to Walcott who sent a right-footed shot this time but – despite he managed to beat a goalkeeper again – he didn’t score as the home defender cleared with a header.
The Reds had an even better chance to take the lead. After some nice passing and not-so-determined defending from our defenders, Ugajin (sounds a bit like Higuain, doesn’t it?) sent a low cross that wasn’t handled properly by Fabianski so Richardes – thanks to huge pressure from Mertesacker – sent the ball over the bar from just six yards.
One of the most promising moments in my eyes was – finally! – seeing a dummy by our player that is not named Aaron Ramsey. Oxlade-Chamberlain did a dummy before Giroud released Walcott who had a lot of space to run at goal. He tried to place the ball into the net but – like many times during Asia Tour – it wasn’t a decent finish from Walcott. Giroud himself had a chance as well but his clever first touch-lob ended just a bit wide.
Arsenal came close to scoring once again before the half-time. Walcott’s corner was met by Mertesacker’s header that fell on the bar. The ball fell to Koscielny on the corner-line of the six-yard-box who attempted with a mix of a shot and cross, goalkeeper deflected it, Gnabry picked it up and returned to the middle, Mertesacker toe-poked it just outside the box for Oxlade-Chamberlain who fired a volley. He didn’t hit the ball in the way he wanted it but it turned out to be a dangerous attempt as the ball beat the ‘keeper and hit the bar. On the other side of the pitch, Ugajin forced Fabianski to pull a magnificent save off a curling shot that would have ended in the top right corner of the goal had our Polish goalkeeper not produced great reflexes.
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After the break, Ramsey, Podolski and Rosicky were introduced. It made a huge difference for our attacking game as the substitutions made an immediate impact. After just three minutes since the restart, Ramsey found Walcott in the box who was clever enough to forward the ball to Podolski who rifled it into the net. Rosicky started to show what kind of impact he might make in the forthcoming season by creating two chances for Walcott but neither of them were converted by the Englishman. The punishment finally came when our sloppiness in dealing with the corner was rounded with Abe’s finish.
We were shaken with that goal and the Reds came close to grabbing a second goal of the game but Fabianski made a key dash to preserve us from falling behind. We could have returned our lead but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance just couldn’t get a proper reward as the young midfielder/forward hit the frame of the goal again – this time, his low shot hit the post. Ignasi Miquel, who mostly struggled to perform well at the full-back position during the Asia Tour, overlapped and made a fine pass to Podolski who didn’t strike the ball properly so that chance for a second goal was wasted.
And, then, just when it seemed that game had a draw written all over it, the Japanese side made a defensive mistake that cost them heavily. A misunderstanding between a defender and goalkeeper can be a very expensive thing (we all know after the 2011 Carling Cup Final) and this time it was Chuba Akpom who was there to profit. Yamahishi already dashed when his defender Nagata sent a header his way. The goalkeeper could only deflect the ball into the path of Akpom who sent it straight into the net to make it 2:1. It turned out to be the final score of the game.
At the end, we can be satisfied with the fact we won all four games during our Asia Tour which is a good thing for self-confidence. There are some things that need improvement – our defending can and must be better for competitive matches as our opponents – mostly due to pace the Asian footballers are well-known for – created a lot of problems to our full-backs. Hopefully Walcott’s finishing from the matches against the Japanese teams isn’t a preview of his performances – his overall game was good though he should pick his team-mates in better positions instead of taking a shot himself. With Giroud and Podolski in a solid shooting form, our attack shouldn’t inspire any “Toothless Gunners” nicknames during 2013-14, especially if Luis Suarez joins us (OK, this pun was very intended). Personally, I think Oxlade-Chamberlain might have a huge impact next season and fulfill his huge potential.
Youngsters Gnabry, Akpom and Zelalem also proved their worth on the trip. The latter was especially impressive during his cameos against Vietnam XI and Nagoya. Miquel, however, made a few good moves in the attacking part of the game but he didn’t impress in defence at times.
Our team needs a few reinforcements in order to challenge for the title, whatever Arsene Wenger thinks. We need a defensive midfielder that will take the defensive burden off Arteta’s and Ramsey’s back, a back-up goalkeeper that will help Szczesny and Fabianski and Cesc Fabregas not just because he is a top-drawer player but also because he belongs at Arsenal more than he even he knows.
on the match…
The game was played at a good pace, we wanted a competitive game and we were not disappointed. They tried to catch us on the break, defended very well and were very sharp on counter attack so it was a good test for us. We created many chances but I would like to congratulate Urawa Reds, they played very well.
on Ryo’s performance…
He has done well, you could see that he is finding his sharpness back. He was better here than in the other game [against Nagoya Grampus] and he is on the way up. He is fighting for his position like many players. I like his game.
on whether Ryo will go on loan…
I believe he is in a position where he needs to play to have a good chance of competing at the top level. At the moment he will stay in the squad. Should we buy more players I will have to reassess the situation. At the moment he will stay with us.
on Gnabry’s display…
He was very good as well. He is 17 years old and he has a presence, power, good technique and can play on both sides. He is a very interesting, promising talent.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Miquel