Arsenal ride their luck as youngsters turn tables on Malaysia XI
Malaysia X1 1 Arsenal 2
Two late goals saw Arsenal steal victory against a Malaysia XI in the opening game of their pre-season Asia tour in Kuala Lumpur.
The Gunners were trailing to a spectacular strike from Mohamad Azmi Muslim when German teenager Thomas Eisfeld equalised with three minutes to go and then a deflected strike from another youngster, Chuks Aneke, won it at the death.
The goals papered over the cracks of a lethargic display from the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger will not be too concerned as he takes his side to China for Friday’s friendly with Manchester City in Beijing.
The identity of the goalscorers gives a clear indication of the strength of the side Arsenal had put out, but there were also plenty of first-teamers involved despite the absence of captain Robin van Persie.
Van Persie is not the only Arsenal player not on tour – new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were also left behind in London and the Gunners’ lack of attacking threat was evident from the start.
Wenger started the match with Marouane Chamakh as the lone striker, supported by Gervinho and Andre Santos on the flanks, the latter playing in an unfamiliar right-sided role.
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Abou Diaby was the pivot of the central midfield trio, playing just ahead of Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin.
Meanwhile at the back Wenger had half of his first-choice defence present in Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs, but the right-sided half comprised of Johan Djourou and Carl Jenkinson. In goal, Vito Mannone was given the nod with Wojciech Szczesny on the bench.
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are also not present in Asia, while Bacary Sagna recovers from the leg he broke against Norwich City in May. Tomas Rosicky has joined Jack Wilshere on the injured list, while Aaron Ramsey is on Olympic duty with Team GB.
It was the Brazilian Santos who was to have the best of the Gunners’ first half chances, rolling one effort wide after neat work from Chamakh and Coquelin had given him space in the Malaysians’ box.
He then nipped in to dispossess one of the hosts’ defenders and should really have scored only to be denied by a sharp reflex save from home keeper Marlias.
Gervinho should also have done better when played in by Diaby early on, but Arsenal were lacking a creative spark and the diminutive home defence were rarely troubled by Chamakh.
At the other end Mannone had been called upon to make a couple of low saves, but was then beaten in first-half injury time by a quite stunning effort from Muslim, whose left-footed 25-yarder left the Italian keeper flat-footed as it scorched into the top left-hand corner of the Arsenal net.
Wenger would not have been impressed at half-time, but had doubtlessly pre-planned the wholesale changes he was to make during the break as all 10 outfield players were replaced.
On came Nico Yennaris for Jenkinson, Kyle Bartley and Craig Eastmond in the centre of defence and Ignasi Miquel at left-back.
In midfield Alex Song, youngster Chuks Aneke and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced the central trio while Theo Walcott and Japanese starlet Ryo were given the wide roles.
Perhaps highlighting the lack of options up front, teenager Benik Afobe came on in place of Chamakh although the 19-year-old instantly looked as threatening as the Moroccan had done in the first half.
A couple of through balls from Song set up half chances but some of Arsenal’s bigger names were not looking up to the pace of the game and it was the younger players who helped turn the result around.
First Yennaris, who on this evidence looks a better option than Jenkinson at right-back in the continued absence of Sagna, latched on to a ball from Song and crossed for Eisfeld, who had only replaced Walcott seven minutes earlier, to volley home a fine equaliser.
And then in the closing moments Miquel and Aneke, who spent last season on loan at Stevenage and Preston, exchanged passes before Aneke’s shot was deflected over Marlias for the winner.
The result was highly fortuitous, but the Gunners were given a good work-out in the Bukit Jalil Stadium. However, they will need to raise their game considerably for the trip to Beijing, where reigning Premier League champions Manchester City await.
Arsenal: Mannone, Jenkinson (Yennaris 45), Djourou (Bartley, 45), Vermaelen (Eastmond, 45), Gibbs (Miquel, 45), Arteta (Song, 45), Coquelin (Aneke, 45), Diaby (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 45), Santos (Walcott 45; Eisfeld, 80), Gervinho (Ryo, 45), Chamakh (Afobe, 45).