After a fruitful couple of weeks in the US, the Gunners came home to take part in the traditional season curtain raiser of sorts at Emirates Stadium against Ligue 1 side Lyon. The home fans were made to wait for their first glimpse of new boy Dani Ceballos, who started on the bench.
Bernd Leno started behind a defence featuring Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers, Sokratis and Nacho Monreal. Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock completed a midfield three, while Pierre Emerick Aubameyang started from the right, with Mkhitaryan on the left and Alex Lacazette through the middle. It was a game that didn’t feel like a friendly at all, such was the intensity of it. There were plenty of positives or Unai Emery’s men, but ultimately they were to be frustrated by the result.
A home crowd undoubtedly buoyed by evidence of some transfer market machinations ooohed and aaaahed early on as the link up between Aubameyang and Lacazette gave the Lyon defence some early conniptions. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang swapped flanks in the opening stages and the match official raised the ire of the home crowd when he waved away an Arsenal penalty claim after a collision in the area featuring Nacho Monreal.
There was further reason for a different type of disquiet in the home crowd when Alex Lacazette was substituted inside the first 15 minutes and replaced by Reiss Nelson. Lacazette jogged from the pitch, so hopefully the injury is not serious. Aubameyang temporarily assumed the central berth in the attack at this point. Moments later Joe Willock found himself in the area in the left half space, wriggled past a Lyon defender but his shot was beaten away by the legs of Lyon ‘keeper Lopes.
Nelson made an early impression with a buffeting right wing run from halfway to the by-line before his cross was deflected away for a corner. Aubameyang and Nelson then combined on the right, but Nelson’s flashed ball across the six yard box was not met with an Arsenal runner. A minute after that, the Gunners raised the pulse again as Willock collected a Guendouzi pass on the edge of the area with his back to goal, he spun and shot, but his low effort was well saved.
It was an excellent start for Unai Emery’s side and it really ought to have been rewarded with a goal on 20 minutes. Maitland-Niles’ cross was volleyed goalwards by Mkhitaryan, Lopes beat the ball away to Joe Willock following up, but he blazed his effort over from close range. It was a very impressive start from Willock who looks very intent on filling the Aaron Ramsey shaped hole in the Arsenal squad.
Arsenal kept the intensity of an impressive half humming along with some promising runs from Reiss Nelson, Mkhitaryan again tested the palms of the Lyon goalie with a fine left footed shot from range. The home side did break the deadlock with a deserved opener on 35 minutes. Mkhitaryan spanked a cross in from the right hand side and Aubameyang used the pace on the ball to deftly guide it into the corner with his instep. A beautifully taken and assembled goal and no less than their play deserved in a dominant opening period.
Strikers instinct! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Xywq36b8Yo
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) July 28, 2019
Lyon briefly threatened right on the cusp of half-time when Nacho Monreal carelessly gave the ball away to Jean Lucas on the edge of his own penalty area, but the Brazilian could only slash a cross shot wide of Bernd Leno’s goal. 1-0 at half-time was the very least the Gunners’ dominance deserved in the opening 45 minutes.
Unai Emery made a half-time change with Eddie Nketiah replacing Matteo Guendouzi. Nketiah moved into a centre forward position with Aubameyang back out on the right and Mkhitaryan dropped back into the midfield. But it was Lyon who posed the early second half threat as Dembele broke down Lyon’s right and fed Memphis Depay, who bent a shot towards the far post which Leno was equal to with an excellent fingertip save.
The chance foreshadowed a spell of early Lyon pressure in the second half, but the home side really ought to have extended their advantage on 55 minutes. Joe Willock clipped a right wing cross to the back post to Eddie Nketiah, but he miscued his header slightly, which bounced awkwardly into the ground and over the bar. He really ought to have scored.
Arsenal took a grip of the game again at this point and Reiss Nelson nearly doubled the advantage when he careered down the left, cut in on his right foot, but sent a shot just wide of the post. A minute later, it was Nketiah’s turn to draw the North Bank’s collective breath.
He collected Nelson’s pass inside the area with his back to goal, wriggled past two defenders but found the Lyon goalie sprawled at his feet to block his close range effort. Fine centre forward play from the youngster.
Lyon grabbed an equaliser against the run of play on 66 minutes when Jean Lucas received the ball on the left wing, chopped the ball back onto his left foot and his cross was met with an excellent run and and header from Lyon number 9 Moussa Dembele (how many Moussa Dembeles are there?!)
The mood inside the Emirates didn’t dip for long as Joe Willock was replaced by Dani Ceballos, whose debut was greeted with an enormous cheer. Gabriel Martinelli came on for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Calum Chambers was replaced by Skhodran Mustafi, whose name drew a small number of boos from pockets of the home crowd.
Arsenal thought they had retaken the lead on 74 minutes when Martinelli bundled home from close range, only to be denied by the offside flag. Less than a minute later Arsenal were behind, when Dembele sprung the offside trap and slotted the ball under Leno. From nowhere, a dominant Gunners side found themselves behind due to a couple of defensive lapses. Sounds familiar, eh?
Aubameyang’s 80th minute free-kick fooled everyone on the east side of the stadium when it curled just wide and hit the posts behind the goal, briefly creating an optical illusion when the net ruffled. The effort was half a yard wide, alas.
In what was proving to be a breathless encounter, Aubameyang came even closer just seconds later. He ran onto a long pass into the right channel. The Lyon keeper came to intercept but misjudged Auba’s pace. The Gabonese hooked the ball over Racciopi’s head and onto the outside of the post from a tight angle.
Arsenal came close again when the ball ricocheted to sub Tyreece John-Jules in the area, but he slightly scuffed his shot into the keeper’s hands. In the end, the Gunners couldn’t force an equaliser and the Ligue 1 side take home the prestigious Emirates Cup trophy. Arsenal attacked really well but were let down by a couple of defensive lapses. I’ll wager that we might say that a few times before 2019-20 is done.