Match Report: MLS All-Stars 1-2 Arsenal

Joel

A tightly contested affair ended in a narrow victory for Arsenal last night as goals from Joel Campbell and Chuba Akpom earned them a win over the MLS All-Stars in the first game of the club’s US tour.

The All-Star team contained a number of recognisable faces with the likes of Kaka, Didier Drogba and Andrea Pirlo all in action, whilst Gunners fans also bore witness to the first appearance of £30m-man Granit Xhaka in an Arsenal shirt.

After drawing 1-1 with RC Lens last Friday, the Gunners’ squad was boosted by the return of Euro 2016 participants Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin and Jack Wilshere, and the return of a number of first-team players saw the team improve significantly on their display in northern France last week.

An open start to the game saw Theo Walcott afforded a couple of early chances, with an initial shot of his heading a yard wide of the post before his low free-kick gave Blake in the All-Star goal a comfortable save to make.

It was the home side who nearly took the lead shortly after, however, after Pirlo sprayed a trademark pass from inside his own half into the feet of the speedy Gio dos Santos, who’d managed to sprint goal-side of Kieran Gibbs in the Arsenal defence. The ex-Spurs man collected the ball and drove his strike down to Petr Cech’s right, but the Arsenal captain was more than up to the challenge as he palmed the effort away.

Moments later Arsenal responded with a break of their own, and after some good work from Joel Campbell that caused all manner of confusion in the opposition defence, the Costa Rican was brought to the ground and a penalty was awarded. Campbell insisted on taking the penalty himself before hitting the ball with pace and accuracy to the goalkeeper’s left, giving his side a 1-0 lead with little more than 10 minutes on the clock.

Arsenal could have doubled their lead minutes later were it not for some poor decision making from Walcott, who after finding himself one-on-one with the last defender decided instead to hit a tame shot at goal rather than passing to Campbell on his left who was in acres of space. This wasted opportunity was one of many for Walcott who endured another bad day at the office in an Arsenal shirt.

The first half remained open, with David Villa attempting an acrobatic bicycle kick that went well over and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shooting high and wide from range, although it was Mohamad Elneny for Arsenal who tested Blake the most with a drilled effort from outside of the box forcing the goalkeeper into an acrobatic save.

It was the All-Stars who grabbed the second goal of the game though, with Didier Drogba managing to do what he always does by scoring against Arsenal for the 16th time in his career. After a poorly placed pass from Gibbs, the ball found it’s way to Drogba who after hitting his first shot into old friend Petr Cech and then having his second effort cleared off the line, managed to score on his third effort by poking the ball home into the empty net.

After the break Arsene Wenger made a host of changes, with Bellerin, Chambers and Monreal all coming on to booster the defence whilst Granit Xhaka was given his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt. The disappointment of conceding on the edge of half-time seemed to throw Arsenal off their game, however, as the second half started slowly with little in the way of chances for either side.

Sebastian Giovinco, brought on at half-time, looked lively after his introduction, and after some nimble footwork the diminutive Italian’s effort was palmed away by Cech in the Arsenal goal. It was starting to look like the game was swinging the way of the home side as the crisp passing and exciting attacks shown in the first half were suddenly lacking in Arsenal’s game.

Wenger saw fit to make some more changes with just over twenty minutes left on the clock, with him this time turning to the youngsters as Reine-Adelaide, Willock, Zelalem and Akpom all came on to try and make a difference in the limited time remaining. Their impact was felt immediately as the Gunners’ attack began to look sharper and the MLS defence were given more to think about as the game began to close out.

Rob Holding, who was very impressive in the heart of the defence in his debut performance, came close to making his first performance even better after his header from Xhaka’s corner went just over, but it was the All-Stars who looked like they might steal the win with less than ten minutes to go as Chris Wondolowski blasted his effort high and wide despite the space afforded to him in the Arsenal box.

The visitors made their opponents pay for the wasted chances though as Chuba Akpom struck late to win it for the Gunners. After Chris Willock picked up the ball in the area, Nacho Monreal made a characteristic overlapping run before receiving the ball and playing a pass across the box and into the path of Akpom. The young striker couldn’t miss as he poked the ball home from a yard out from the line.

Soon after the game ended in a 2-1 win for Arsenal, who will have felt good value for their victory even though the game was closely fought and evenly contested. The club will play the second and final game of their tour this Sunday as they travel to Los Angeles to face Chivas at the StubHub Center.

Man of the Match: Rob Holding

Player Ratings: MLS All-Stars 1-2 Arsenal

Callum Perritt

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