Unai Emery’s Arsenal defeated Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles. The contest ended in a 2-1 victory for the Gunners who began their International Champions Cup campaign without club captain Laurent Koscielny who refused to travel with the rest of the squad last week.
Emery selected a strong side from the start which included the likes of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Granit Xhaka was given the armband and was partnered in the centre of midfield by the 19 year old Joe Willock.
With Lacazette leading the line, and Ozil in the pocket behind him, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang were tasked with providing support from the wide areas. The Gabonese striker has often operated from the left hand side, particularly since Emery’s arrival however on this occasion he was deployed wide on the right.
Often finding himself with space, Aubameyang’s ability to carry the ball, explosive pace and directness caused Bayern, and David Alaba in particular, problems from the start. Aubameyang’s starting position meant he escaped the attentions of the central defenders and was able to drift into the penalty area late and undetected on multiple occasions, causing pandemonium in the Bayern penalty area.
At half-time the game was goalless. Both sides had created opportunities but looked equally vulnerable defensively. Willock had impressed with a disciplined and mature performance alongside Xhaka in the middle of the park and Ozil was in full flow. The German was extremely proactive, dropping deep, collecting the ball and spraying passes left and right. In the first half, Ozil performed to the extremely high standard of which we know he’s capable - but it begs the question as to why these kind of displays are so few and far between.
Bayern boss Niko Kovac made eleven changes at the interval and the introductions of Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski gave the German outfit far more prowess in the final third. Arsenal made just two changes at the break, Emiliano Martinez replacing Bernd Leno in goal and Sead Kolasinac came in at left-back in place of Nacho Monreal.
Early in the second period the deadlock was finally broken, after some impressive build up from Mkhitaryan played a delightful ball over the top for Aubameyang to run onto. The striker, from a wide position, attempted to cut the ball back across the goal but in Louis Poznanski’s desperate attempt to prevent the cross he turned the ball into his own net - gifting Arsenal the lead.
But it was from this point onwards that Bayern began to dominate and turn the screw. Tired legs began to show amongst the Arsenal group and Emery’s decision to continue with the majority of his starting eleven was proving to be problematic. On 71 minutes former Arsenal player Gnabry picked out Lewandowski with a delightful cross and his trademark header levelled the score.
With the game heading for a penalty shoot-out Emery took action: having already introduced Reiss Nelson for Mkhitaryan just moments before the equaliser, the Spaniard made a triple substitution. Aubameyang, Ozil and Lacazette were all replaced by Bukayo Saka, Tyreece John-Jules and Eddie Nketiah. Whatever the young Arsenal front line lacked in experience was compensated by determination, energy and the desire to prove themselves.
Bayern were served with a warning when Niklas Sule was robbed by Nketiah on the edge of his own penalty area. The young striker dispossessed the German but when he broke into the penalty area the angle closed rapidly, and by the time Nketiah was in a position to shoot, Sven Ulreich in the Bayern goal was at his feet to smother.
Nketiah the hero
Nketiah’s hard work did pay off eventually. John-Jules did brilliantly to wriggle free of his marker after an excellent piece of play, cut the ball back across the face of the goal and Nketiah was there to slot the ball home and restore the Gunners’ lead. The young guns combined to devastating effect; evidently Emery’s decision to hold off on the substitutions was the right one, and although this was merely a pre-season game it’ll serve as a huge confidence booster considering the calibre of the opponent.
Despite the Arsenal fanbase being generally unimpressed by the lack of transfer business to date there is lots to be positive about. If transfer funds are indeed limited, Emery will be forced to call on this current crop of young footballers to reinforce what is clearly an unbalanced first team squad. The likes of Nketiah, Willock, Nelson and John-Jules could prove key, particularly in cup competitions, and their impressive display out in the States will provide the boss with much to consider.