Arsenal overcame a poor first-half display to salvage a 2-2 draw with Napoli in their first match of the Emirates Cup. As their preparations intensify for a new Premier League season that is now just two weeks away, manager Arsene Wenger will not have been encouraged as his strong side went 2-0 down inside the opening half an hour and also missed a penalty through Lukas Podolski.
His opposite number Rafa Benitez, meanwhile, on his return to London, will have been enthused with his side’s attacking potential that saw strikes from Lorenzo Insigne and Goran Pandev. But as the predictable spate of substitutions arrived in the second half, Arsenal came on strong and got back on level terms when Bacary Sagna deflected in Olivier Giroud’s volley and then Laurent Koscielny headed home inside the final five minutes.
The result leaves both sides on two points for the annual pre-season showpiece, two points behind leaders Galatasaray, who beat Porto 1-0 earlier in the day. Sunday’s action will see Napoli play Porto and Arsenal take on the Turkish champions. However, it will be the performance rather than result that will most concern Wenger. And neither he nor the Arsenal supporters should be under any illusions that the significant funds claimed to be available need to be spent and spent wisely in the closing month of the transfer window.
It was Arsenal that actually had the first chance of the match when young Serge Gnabry placed a shot wide after the ball broke kindly to him 12 yards from goal. Within minutes, though, the hosts were behind. And to the frustration of the majority inside the Emirates it was a lax defensive error of the kind that has been witnessed far too often in recent seasons that was the source. From a hopeful ball forward Carl Jenkinson made an awful defensive header allowing Lorenzo Insingne to get in behind him and finish clinically on the volley past Lukasz Fabianski.
With 21-year-old Jenkinson still more potential than anything else and Bacary Sagna, who has just a year left on his contract, having struggled since two broken legs, manager Arsene Wenger may have been further encouraged that right-back is an area that needs strengthening.
A player who has shown himself to have bundles of potential, Gnabry, was gifted a second chance to get on the scoresheet and pull his team level. . Pepe Reina committed the kind of error that persuaded Liverpool to ship him out on loan as he passed straight to Gnabry, but the 18-year-old chipped just over the bar. An even better opportunity soon arrived when Kieran Gibbs went down in the opposition box under challenge from former West Ham man Valon Behrami. Podolski, though, couldn’t take advantage as his spot kick was parried away by Reina.
Still, Arsenal repeatedly were still struggling to deal with the movement of Napoli’s attacking quartet and two of them combined on 28 minutes to double the Italian side’s lead. The always involved Marek Hamsik was criminally allowed to burst through behind the Arsenal midfield of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere and run at the defense before slipping a reverse bass to Pandev, who rounded Fabiasnki before producing a fine finish into the corner from a far from straightforward angle.
The scoreline could have been made even worse for Arsenal before the break when they again failed to track Napoli’s runners. This time it was left-back Pablo Armero charging down the left before crossing for Inisgne, whose effort just ricocheted wide.
Arsenal did come close to pulling one back when Podolski’s low effort was just touched by Reina and the Premier League side came into the match more after the break. A typically bustling run from Wilshere was just missing the finish when he dragged a shot wide.
Predictably the second-half featured several substitutions and then were bizarre, but not entirely unexpected, boos from the home crowd with the introduction of Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentinian striker was making his debut for Napoli after the Partenopei stumped up the cash that Arsenal weren’t willing to in order to secure his signature.
There was also increasing frustration shown toward their own side from the Arsenal fans. With 72 minutes on the clock they finally had something to cheer. From a left-wing corner, Giroud held off the challenge of Paolo Cannavaro and executed a fine acrobatic volley with his back to goal that was heading just wide until an inadvertent touch from Sagna took it inside the corner.
The Gunners were able to maintain the momentum for the rest of the encounter and pulled level with four minutes left on the clock. Mikel Arteta’s free-kick was powered at goal by the head of Per Mertesacker to produce a fine reaction save from Reina, but he could do little as Koscielny charged in to nod the rebound into the net.