Arsenal Vs Sydney FC: Recap, highlights and analysis

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his teams second goal during the match between Sydney FC and Arsenal FC at ANZ Stadium on July 13, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his teams second goal during the match between Sydney FC and Arsenal FC at ANZ Stadium on July 13, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) /

Arsenal opened their preseason account on Thursday by facing Austrailian champions Sydney FC. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 2-0 win.

There was a definite preseason feel to Arsenal’s first summer fixture. As is ever the case with these introductory games, it was, primarily, played at a more leisurely pace, before bursting into life with a surging run or driving shot. Arsene Wenger looked for a nice blend of youthful exuberance and experienced know-how in his side, introducing the likes of Reiss Nelson and Cohen Bramall to first-team football, and will be pleased with his side’s performance in an impressive 2-0 victory.

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In possession, Arsenal were tidy, fizzing passes between midfield and attack, with the two wing-backs playing with great freedom and intention, flying forwards, both with and without the ball, being fed with sliding passes from Mesut Ozil and Joe Willock.

The opening goal was inevitable and it took just short of four minutes for it to come. After a Nelson burst down the right resulted in a corner, Ozil whipped the cross in, which resulted in Per Mertesacker, who had cleverly used his size to back into the defender, flicking the ball into the bottom corner in a neat impression of an overhead kick.

Chances came to Danny Welbeck, who was nearly found by an excellent sliding, low cross from the bombarding Bramall, and Theo Walcott, who flashed a near-post shot that was comfortably saved. While further goals were hard to find, the slick, intricate passing in midfield, combined with lightning pace in wide areas and in the final third, were engineering opportunities and angles for the likes of Willock and Ozil to exploit.

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Towards the end of the half, Arsenal began to turn up the pace of their passing. Willock and Ozil dictated play at a high tempo, with quick, one and two touch passes, looking to manufacture space for the speed of Walcott, Welbeck and the two fliers out wide to exploit. Willock himself had the best chance of the closing stages. After a driving run from midfield, skipping past two or three midfielders, his shot from a tight angle was comfortably parried away as he was unable to successfully wrap his foot around the ball.

But Arsenal entered the break having dominated the game throughout. They looked confident, sharp and deliberate in possession, regimented and disciplined in the 3-4-3 system, and were blessed with youthful exuberance and real, threatening, direct pace in the final third. With changes anticipated, Wenger will want to be able to offer many players the chance to play and begin to develop their fitness, but thus far, he will be very happy indeed.

The second half commenced in a similar fashion. Arsenal dominated play, with Ozil floating in between the lines, linking up play, collecting and releasing the ball with great incision and rhythm, while the two youthful fliers down either flank continued to terrorise the Sydney full-backs.

It was Nelson who scuffed a volley at the back post after a clipped Ozil cross, before the 17-year-old set up Bramall with a brilliant, surging run to the byline and delightful cross, only for Bramall’s looped, volleyed effort to be well saved, turned around the far post.

The best chance of the early stages of the second half, though, came to Danny Welbeck. After the effervescent striker collected a loose back pass, Theo Walcott’s shot was adjudged to have been blocked by the hand of a sliding Sydney defender. The ball actually struck the back, rather than the arm, of the defender, but a penalty had already been awarded. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Welbeck’s penalty was soft, hit to the left-hand side, but a long way from the corner, and at a nice height for the goalkeeper to parry clear. Justice, you could argue, was served.

On the 67th minute, Wenger substituted all ten outfield players, including the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette, playing in the wide left role of the front three with Olivier Giroud through the middle. The wholesale changes certainly affected the rhythm of the game, with Arsenal struggling to play through the phases with the same fluency and comfort, allowing Sydney to press a little higher up the pitch and enjoy a greater share of the game.

However, as the collection of players began to settle into the game, Arsenal reinstated their control. Granit Xhaka began spraying balls around the park, with one particularly delightful pass to Alex Iwobi down the left flank that allowed the winger to drive at the exposed defence. Lacazette was direct and intentional with the ball at his feet, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a free-kick comfortably saved, while continuing to show the athletic dominance that his late season form blossomed with, and youngster Eddie Nketiah had a lovely, flicked volley from a corner strike the foot of the post.

And then, the moment that everyone had been waiting for came: Alexandre Lacazette’s first Arsenal goal in his first Arsenal game. Iwobi, who looked extremely sharp on the left flank, was released down the wide channel by a nice pass from Nketiah. Iwobi, with time and space, drove towards the byline, before picking out Lacazette, who had wandered into the penalty area unattended thanks to great understanding, spatial awareness and reading of the game, with a neat, cut-back cross. Lacazette simply flicked the shot past the goalkeeper, using the pace of the cross to his advantage. It was a calm, confident finish, emblematic of the goalscoring prowess that he comes to the Emirates with.

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That was the last notable piece of play in the game, bar a strong save from Emiliano Martinez after some loose play from the Arsenal defence, and the Gunners were allowed to simply play out the final few, closing minutes.

It was an extremely comfortable win, far more than the 2-0 scoreline would indicate, with several bright performances, especially from some of the younger members of the squad, that Wenger will be pleased with. All conclusions drawn should certainly be tempered with the clause that this is a preseason game against competition far below what Arsenal will face in the Premier League, but this was an excellent start to a crucial summer.