Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain scored a stunning chipped goal to rescue Arsenal from defeat in its opening preseason friendly against Lens on Friday. In what was his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt since injury brought his season to a very early end in February, the midfielder appeared determined to make up for lost time after entering the fray in France as a halftime substitute. And with eight minutes remaining he produced a piece of skill out of keeping with a rusty Arsenal performance, chipping the ball outrageously over the head of the Lens goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
To that point, Arsenal had appeared set for a defeat to begin its preparations for the new season following a first-half goal from Mathias Autret that gave the French Ligue 2 side the lead. The goal was indicative of Arsenal's sluggishness for much of the encounter. Calum Chambers, who did little to enhance his first-team prospects for the new season with a torrid first-half outing at center-back, headed the ball straight into the path of a Lens attacker. While Abdellah Zoubir's initial effort was saved by Arsenal backup goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Autret was on hand to tap the ball home on the rebound.
Arsenal was without the players who turned out at Euro 2016 as well as the Copa America Centenario, meaning high-profile absentees like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. But there was still a good deal of experience in the starting lineup. Per Mertesacker captained the side, while Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal were among the other familiar faces.
But it was evident that Lens, who begin its Ligue 2 season in just a week's time, was far more advanced in its preparations. Another worrying defensive mishap from Arsenal could have given Lens an even earlier lead, but Autret, after sprinting away from an isolated Mertesacker, on this occasion dragged his shot wide.
For Arsenal, none of the performances from the attacking starters will have done anything to quell the desperation among many supporters for manager Arsene Wenger to sign a top-class striker before the season gets underway with a clash against Liverpool in three weeks' time.
The only player in the Arsenal starting lineup without a Premier League appearance to his name, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, provided a moment of inspiration, but the former Lens forward then fluffed his finish. And there were plenty of miscues going on throughout the Arsenal side. Walcott, who badly needs a good preseason after falling down the pecking order at the Emirates last season, was among those who struggled for precision with his passing, as well as blazing a shot wide of the near post.
But six changes from Wenger at halftime did bring more intensity, if not fluency. Joel Campbell added added energy, yet on more than one occasion his final ball failed to find a teammate.
But in Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal did have a player tuned in. Such was the 22-year-old's lack of progression last season that there have even be rumors that he might be discarded by Arsenal. That would certainly be a shame given the ability that he so obviously possesses and that made him such a talent when joining the club as a 17-year-old. It was a thrilling flash of that skill that ensured Arsenal's preparations for what might turn out to be Wenger's final season in charge began with something to savor rather than disappointment.