Match Report: RC Lens 1-1 Arsenal

Arsenal’s 2016/17 season got off to a slow but steady start tonight as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inspired chip rescued a 1-1 draw against RC Lens in the north of France.

With a significant number of first-team players still recovering from their exploits for their international sides this summer, Arsenal fielded a team of mixed talents at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis that saw a number of young players given chances to make an impact and impress manager Arsene Wenger.

The game marked the return of Mathieu Debuchy, Chuba Akpom and Emiliano Martinez to the Arsenal line-up, with all three having ended last season out on loan at other clubs, whilst Jeff Reine-Adelaide was also afforded a rare starting berth against the side he joined the Gunners from last summer.

After a quick start that saw Akpom given the chance to get away an early shot that was comfortably saved, the game soon settled into a slower rhythm that suited a Lens side who were two weeks further into their pre-season preparations than their opponents. Early stages of the game saw chances come and go with little frequency, although the home side came closest to opening the scoring after Abdellah Zoubir was able to turn Calum Chambers in the Arsenal box before blasting his effort over the bar.

Arsenal were finding it difficult to break down a stubborn Lens defence despite the best efforts of Debuchy who frequently found Theo Walcott down the right flank in front of him, and whilst Reine-Adelaide came closest for Arsenal after his shot bent just round the post, it was the home side who broke the deadlock.

The goal came after Chambers mistimed a header that allowed Zoubir to race through on goal, and with captain Per Mertesacker unable to get back in time the Frenchman powered a shot at Emiliano Martinez’s goal. The Argentinian stopper made a good save to deny Zoubir but he could do nothing but deflect the attempt into the path of Mathias Autret who had the simple task of finishing into the empty net at the back post.

Half-time came and went with the Gunners having disappointed so far, although a swathe of changes made by Arsene Wenger at the break gave Arsenal more fluidity in their attack in the second half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had not played since February due to injury, immediately added some much-needed drive to the forward line whilst Kieran Gibbs and Serge Gnabry both offered more down the left flank.

It was Lens who came closest to scoring the second goal of the game, however, as substitute goalkeeper Matt Macey was forced to pull out a quick reflex save to deny Benjamin Bourigeaud a spectacular volleyed finish. Arsenal were looking the better side in the second half but Lens weren’t afraid to mount an attack when given the chance.

Arsenal finally got the breakthrough with less than ten minutes on the clock, and after seeing little in the way of real quality over the previous 80 minutes, it was a sublime piece of skill from Oxlade-Chamberlain that provided the Gunners’ equaliser. The Englishman made a run round the outside of the Lens defence before being found by a tidy pass from Gnabry and, despite not being known for his goalscoring prowess, he executed his finish with the deftest of chips over the rooted goalkeeper’s head and into the side of the goal.

After drawing level Arsenal pushed for a winner, with youngster Chris Willock coming on late to try and impressing with a brief cameo, but in the end both sides seemed happy enough with a draw after a good run-out for each of them.

Arsenal will now travel to the USA for their pre-season tour with their first game to come against the MLS All-Stars next Friday, and it is expected that the likes of Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere, along with new signing Rob Holding, will join those who made today’s squad in travelling across the Atlantic.

Man of the Match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Player Ratings: RC Lens 1-1 Arsenal

Callum Perritt

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