Boreham Wood 0 Arsenal 2 (Olsson 68, Afobe 86 (pen)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Second-half goals from Kristoffer Olsson and Benik Afobe ensured that the Arsenal first-team started their pre-season preparations with a victory away to Boreham Wood on a sweltering afternoon in Hertfordshire.
There were a smattering of first-team players on show, but, with an entirely different line-up named in each half, there were also plenty of opportunities for youngsters to impress. Semi Ajayi, Jon Toral and Julio Pleguezuelo all made their senior debuts during the course of the afternoon, but the most notable inclusion was that of 16 year old Chris Willock, the hugely-promising attacking midfielder who recently committed his future to the club amidst interest from Manchester United.
Wojciech Szczesny, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and Yaya Sanogo were amongst those who started the game.
Arsenal began brightly, but struggled to make the most of the few opportunities they created in the first-half. Sanogo squandered a presentable chance, with Ramsey and Toral also coming close to scoring as the half progressed.
Szczesny was a mere spectator in the Arsenal goal, barely being called upon for much of the 45 minutes, but Arsenal’s defence still had to be alert at times, with Isaac Hayden making some impressive interceptions. Monreal was also impressive at left-back, and the experienced Spaniard helped to guide Willock through the game by constantly providing him with instructions.
Willock did not see too much of the ball during his time on the field, but he used possession wisely when called upon and didn’t look out of place in a first-team environment. Francis Coquelin, back from a fitful loan spell at Freiburg, looked as if he had never been away, with the Frenchman snapping into crunching challenges with regularity.
Toral was heavily involved in most of Arsenal’s passing moves, but does perhaps need to pass the ball quicker at times, whilst Ramsey was far from full sharpness but still provided occasional glimpses of his quality.
As expected, Wenger changed his whole team at the break, with Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky all receiving their first run-outs of pre-season.
With Boreham Wood refraining from making wholesale changes, Arsenal seemed the fresher side in the early stages of the second period. Olsson and Rosicky, two players who are very similar in playing style, saw a lot of the ball, whilst the ex-Barcelona trio of Hector Bellerin, Pleguezuelo and Ignasi Miquel were all impressive at the back.
Diaby also seemed composed and, for once, free of injury troubles, with the Frenchman coming close to breaking the deadlock before Arsenal finally found the net in the 68th minute.
Olsson had been impressive all half, playing plenty of intelligent passes, but it was Rosicky who was the provider on this occasion, with the Czech Republic midfielder spotting Olsson in space. The 19 year old, who made his competitive debut for the first-team last season, finished adroitly, but Arsenal were still searching for more goals.
Along with Olsson, Chuba Akpom caught the eye with some superb runs down the left flank. The England U19 international almost scored himself before another effort caused confusion in the penalty area which led to a spot-kick being awarded. Afobe stepped up to take it and converted to seal the victory.
Boreham Wood should be commended for making the game much more difficult for Arsenal than many would have anticipated, but the Gunners’ vibrancy shone through in the end. There will be more exacting workouts to come in the next few weeks, against New York Red Bulls, Benfica and Monaco, but this was still a useful challenge, and for Willock in particular, a very memorable one.