The familiar feeling before a Gunners match was there again Tuesday. After weeks away from action, Arsenal was back on the pitch.
A relatively "weaker" Arsenal side strolled out against the Malaysia XI Tuesday, featuring goal keeper Vito Mannone (returning from loan) along with newly appointed captain Thomas Vermaelen and much criticized centre forward Marouane Chamakh.
The game started off well for the Gunners, who held of possession passed the ball around, and looked truly comfortable in possession. A few misplaced passes, however gave Malaysia the chance to get their foot in the door (the mistakes were understandable however, given the recent lack of game time, and the less than perfect quality of the pitch).
The minutes ticked by, with breaks at goal on both sides, the most notable being Arsenal's Andre Santos, who, despite his goal scoring desire, failed to deliver on both occasions. Although many of Wenger Arsene's stars sat at home in England, this pre-season friendly bought up the same issue; a decent defensive midfielder. This was emphasized by the way Malaysia's Azmi Muslim managed to score, surely this could have been prevented/made easier for Mannone if someone had closed him down and got tighter. But no, he was left with Acres of space to pull off a wonder strike.
The half time whistle blew with Malaysia leading Arsenal 1-0.
Wholesale changes came at halftime, with the additions of England international Theo Walcott and Afobe (who spent the end of last season away on loan at Reading). These changes had both benefits and setbacks. The benefit of having fresher and more experienced players on the pitch, but the previous players had just been settling in to the flow of the game, the new comers had to adjust, and fast, if Arsenal were to salvage anything from this shocking situation.
Another 35 minutes of the same breakaways, counter attacks and slip ups continued until one young German stepped on to the pitch in place of Walcott, who saved England at the Euros.
In the 87th minute 19-year-old Thomas Eisfield replaced walcott and scored the first Arsenal first team goal, despite being on the pitch for fewer than seven minutes himself. A new surge of hope spread over the lead-legged Arsenal players with the score tied at one. It came down to the last few minutes, and long-forgotten Afobe placed the ball into the back of the net (courtesy of a rather significant deflection, it must be said).
Down 1-0 for over half the match, Arsenal scored two goals in the final 10 minute to win 2-1.
Although it was only a only a pre-season friendly, and with half the first team at home, it was clear that the defensive game is still clearly an issue. With any luck, Steve Bould, Arsene's new right-hand-man, does know a thing or two about defending, and with his input, next season could be very promising for the Gunners.
Bradley Gabr-Ryn: @bgrs_Arsenal