This was the final and, as it turned out, most challenging workout for Arsenal during their pre-season tour of Asia, with Urawa Red Diamonds enjoying large spells of possession and forcing Lukasz Fabianski into making some impressive saves, but the Gunners eventually prevailed, with Chuba Akpom capitalising on some inept defending to make it 2-1 late on.
Akpom will have fond memories of this four-stop tour, and, along with Gedion Zelalem, who was introduced midway through the second half, can be seen to have greatly enhanced his claim for at least some first-team action when the new campaign gets underway. Ignasi Miquel, meanwhile, completed the whole game at left-back, an indication that he, too, is very much in Arsene Wenger’s thinking as a back-up option in defence.
There were fewer substitutions than in the previous games, with Damian Martinez, Kristoffer Olsson, Thomas Eisfeld and Chuks Aneke all remaining un-used, but, for all of the youngsters involved, this tour has at least afforded them the opportunity of sampling what life in the first-team is like. Now, the task will be to remain with the squad for the Emirates Cup, and, potentially, beyond.
Serge Gnabry was handed his third start of the tour as he sought to send a message to Wenger, but the 18 year old, despite some driving runs, didn’t make a sustained impact on proceedings. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both struck the woodwork as Arsenal piled on the pressure in the first-half, but they couldn’t make a breakthrough until just after the interval when Lukas Podolski applied the finishing touch to a fine move to put his side ahead.Walcott then squandered two opportunities to increase the lead, but, instead, it was the hosts who would score next, with former Leicester City defender Yuki Abe firing past Fabianski to equalise. Urawa Red Diamonds proceeded to dominate for the next ten minutes or so, with Fabianski forced into action on several occasions, and Laurent Koscielny, back from injury, had to make a vital late interception to prevent another goal.
Akpom was on hand to find the net when it mattered at the other end, however, with the 17 year old, deployed on the right flank, seizing upon a mis-understanding between the Urawa goalkeeper and a defender by stroking the ball calmly into the net.
The signing of Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre this summer may have pushed Akpom a little further down the pecking order as far as Arsenal’s strikers are concerned, but the England youth international has certainly staked his claim for further outings during this trip and is a certainty to at least feature in the Capital One Cup this season.
Zelalem, meanwhile, again played some neat passes, but was guilty of dwelling on the ball on one occasion which resulted in the Japanese side winning the ball. By and large, though, the 16 year old has enjoyed a superb run of games during this tour and has showcased his talent to a worldwide audience.
Miquel could well be promoted to the first-team squad as cover but still does not seem to be entirely dependable in a defensive sense, whilst Gnabry’s continued inclusion suggests that Wenger could elevate the young German into the first-team squad to take the place of Andrey Arshavin.
Martinez could find himself as the club’s third-choice goalkeeper, but only if another, more experienced shot-stopper is not acquired within the next 38 days. As for Eisfeld, Aneke and Olsson, they are likely to have to wait another year at least to discover their long-term fate at the club, with the latter likely to feature in the Capital One Cup, whilst Eisfeld and Aneke could be set for loan spells.
With the squad now returning to England, some of the youngsters who missed out on the tour, such as Nico Yennaris and Isaac Hayden, will hope to be involved in the Emirates Cup, as Wenger continues to assess his options ahead of the new campaign.