Arsenal ended their pre-season preparations with a 2-1 defeat to Benfica in the Eusebio Cup in a game very much of two halves. The Gunners made a tidy, if conservative, start in Lisbon as a reshuffled midfield of Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky took their time finding their feet against a mobile Benfica outfit.
Aside from a couple of smart bits of play by Gervinho, one pacey dribble down the left wing and failed cross to Arshavin, and a smart twist and turn followed by a shot into the side netting, little happened in the first twenty minutes. Ramsey looked controlled in the midfield, Rosicky was his usual energetic if unproductive self, while Szczesny appeared to have learned his lesson from last season by keeping his hands to himself as a Benfica player took a tumble in the box.
In the 31st minute Arsenal finally broke behind the Benfica defence. Song playing a delightful ball inside the full-back only for Robin van Persie to try and Carlos Vela the ball into the back of the net with his chocolate leg. While it wasn’t a bad effort you’d be screaming mad if he’d missed that in a Premier League clash.
Only two minutes later however, Van Persie did break the deadlock. Andrey Arshavin fed Kieran Gibbs who surged to the left-hand by-line before cutting the ball back to the Dutchman who clinically found the top corner from six yards out.
It was a very Arsenal goal and pleasing to see Gibbs show a level of composure in the penalty box which so often was Gael Clichy’s downfall. It wasn’t just in the final third that the England man proved himself useful, twice in defensive situations he came to his teammates’ rescue making last ditch challenges.
There was a major scare just before half-time as a Benfica player, his name lost in the fog of Jack Daniels consumption, scythed through the back of Van Persie sending our brittle-boned striker to the turf. Replays showed his ankle do that bend thing that makes you feel a bit sick in the mouth; strangely the Dutchman limped to the sidelines to receive treatment on his knee. Cue panic on Twitter and immediate fears of a nine month lay-off. Thankfully Van Persie got back to his feet and played the final 7 minutes of the half before being placed by Chamakh at half-time.
Almost immediately after the second half began, Benfica equalised. Both Gibbs and Vermaelen can shoulder the blame although the finish by hobbit-like Argentine Pablo Aimar left Fabianski (who had only just come on) with no chance.
Three minutes later, Benfica hit the bar as defender Luisão found himself on his own in the box after a failed attempt at playing the offside trap by the Arsenal back four. In truth the Gunners were lucky, and the Brazilian should have scored.
Just before the hour mark, the home side deservedly took the lead. Skipping inside Squillaci (we could all do it), Nolito hit a low effort inside Fabianski’s near post which left the Pole looking more than a bit pissed off. It was a soft goal, albeit one which was taken well by the former Barcelona man.
The sense of control which Wenger’s side asserted in the first half seemingly disappeared with the numerous substitutions taking their toll. Benfica stepped up the tempo, bit into challenges and upped the pressure on a young midfield which included both Frimpong and Lansbury.
A frenetic encounter grew increasingly feisty as the half went on with both Squillaci and Vermaelen making meaty challenges on opponents. Unfortunately, for all the gusto in the tackle, there was little guile in possession with the ball all too often given away in the centre of the park. While Ryo Miyaichi did his best on the left-wing, Marouane Chamakh’s invisible man routine grated hugely and made you seriously question whether Wenger is offloading the right striker.
In the final moments Fabianski produced a spectacular save to keep the score at 2-1 but despite a late surge from the Gunners, Arsene Wenger’s men were unable to equalise.
The Gunners return home with seven days to work on their fitness before next Saturday’s curtain raiser against Newcastle United.