Unai Emery – just about – overcame fellow new London manager Maurizio Sarri when Arsenal defeated Chelsea on penalties in a pre-season friendly at the Aviva Stadium in Ireland as part of the International Champions Cup.
An inspired performance by captain on-the-day Petr Cech and a very, very late equalizer from striker Alexandre Lacazette put the Gunners in a position to win, and Alex Iwobi slotted home the winning penalty to make it 6-5 in the shootout.
It was a fine occasion for those who found themselves with tickets to the showpiece friendly in Dublin, with strong sides lining out for both premier League sides.
Emery opted for a 4-3-3, with Shkrodan Mustafi partnering Sokratis Papastathopoulus at the back. Fellow new signing Matteo Guendouzi was in the middle, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made up the attacking line.
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey – who this week found himself linked with a move to the Blues, with his Arsenal contract still in a state of uncertainty with one year remaining – was missing from the game with a minor calf complaint.
He was replaced in the line-up by Emile Smith Rowe, who signed a new contract with the club this week after having a fine pre-season campaign thus far. At just 17-years-old, Smith Rowe could definitely represent a fine player for the future, and the trust of a new contract perhaps suggests he may even feature in the league and cup at times this season – exciting times for the youngster.
After just a few minutes, Chelsea had put themselves in-front as Antonio Rudiger raised highest to put the ball into the net of his clubs former goal keeper – and reported transfer target – Petr Cech (who was captain on the day), directing a hearer into the bottom corner.
10 minutes later it looked like Sarri’s side were going to make there lead stronger when Hector Bellerin brought down Callum Hudson-Odoi in the Arsenal penalty area.
Spanish striker Alvaro Morata stepped up to take the spot kick, but Cech made no mistake in stopping it, getting down quickly to keep the deficit at 1 goal. Morata will be hoping to improve on what was a lacklustre first year at the Blues, with his matches against Arsenal las season proving particularly uninspiring. It looks like the forward may have found his bogey team in the Premier league with the Gunners.
With the signing of Bernd Leno and the linking of Yann Sommer, it looked certain that Cech’s time at Arsenal was approaching an end. Whether that is the case or not, displays like today in Dublin showcase just how much the veteran stopper still has to give.
Cech went a very long time without saving a penalty at Arsenal, but he managed to save two today – one in the first half to keep his side in the game, and another in the shootout to put his side in a winning position. On the day, it’s fair to say the Czech keeper was the man of the match.
Just a few minutes after the penalty, Arsenal were unlucky to remain behind when Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang linked up well, with the Gabonese forwards effort hitting the post.
Sarri’s team looked to be in control of the game as the first half drew to a close, but when the second half got underway, his counterparts team came out fighting.
Iwobi and Lacazette took to the field in the second half – both players that were going to have a big impact on how proceedings would ultimately go at the Aviva.
Lacazette was coming into the game on a high after netting twice against Paris Saint Germain last week in Singapore. He tested Chelsea substitute goalkeeper Marcin Bulka with 15 minutes left on the clock, but his low strike sailed inches wide of the post.
Iwobi was next to test the keeper, with 85 minutes on the clock, his effort required a reflex save. It looked like it wasn’t going to be Arsenal’s day.
But – with only 17 seconds left on the clock, they finally managed to get on the scoreboard. Lacazette managed to hold the composure to put an effort into the Chelsea net in stoppage time, bringing the game to extra time, to the immense satisfaction of the Gunners who had congregated in Dublin.
And after being ahead for practically all of the game in Dublin, Chelsea found themselves at the mercy of penalties – and it was q uality shootout.
Every player who took to the spot – Lacazette, Reiss Nelson, Guendouzi, Ainsley Amitland Niles and Ozil for Arsenal – found the net, and Chelsea reciprocated.
That was until Cech stopped Ruben loftus-Cheek’s penalty with a smart save, meaning it was Iwobi’s for the win – and the Nigerian international made no mistake, making the score 6 to 5 and the win belonged to Emery.
It was a fun match, and one that perhaps gives a better indicator as to how the new manager may start the season, in some ways. The 4-3-3 formation is interesting, but it would feel unfair to leave Lacazette out given his form over the Summer – although the Aubameyang/Lacazette debacle was always going to be a positive conundrum for the new manager.
Up next for Chelsea is the Community Shield on August 6th against Arsenal’s first opponents of the season on August 12th, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
There is one more pre-season game remaining for the Gunners – a trip to Stockholm to face Lazio in the Friend’s Stadium. Finalizing tactics will be important in the game against the Serie A side, and will hopefully represent the end of a generally positive pre-season campaign.