Unai Emery’s pre-season ended in a win, as Arsenal defeated Lazio 2-0 in Stockholm in the International Champions Cup.
Goals from Reiss Nelson in the first half and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the second capped off an accomplished performance on the whole for the Gunners, and with a few stellar performances that will give Emery food for thought in terms of selection for our first Premier League game of the campaign against Manchester City next weekend.
Emery named a changed lineup for this game against the Serie A side, with a back five of Leno, Lichtsteiner, Chambers, Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. In midfield, Granit Xhaka appeared alongside Lucas Torreira for his debut, with Reiss Nelson and Alex Iwobi on the flanks supporting Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette.
At least that was how the formation was on paper. In reality, Iwobi and Nelson had a little more freedom to float, and it was these two that combined to break the deadlock.
Iwobi’s shot from inside the box was aimed toward the far corner, but the woodwork denied his effort. It wasn’t enough to deny Nelson though, who was on the follow up to knock it home from close range.
It was no less than Arsenal deserved, but Lazio were capable of causing some dangerous moments, with Ciro Immobile the instigator. They did threaten too, but Chambers and Holding were on hand to snuff out the danger.
Lichtsteiner was also making his debut, and the 34 year old showed his reputation for stamina is entirely deserved, and also that his sage head could well be vital for us this coming season. He had a most assured first game in an Arsenal shirt.
Torreira too, was tidy, but there was none of the explosive ball-winning that he is known for, but then again, the pace of the game was far removed from our game midweek against rivals Chelsea. It was evident that this was a friendly.
That wasn’t to say there was no effort. On the contrary, Arsenal were industrious, and Lazio ready to capitalise should moves break down.
There was no other goals before half time though, but every man on the pitch had played well enough to not do their chances of selection any harm for next week.
The second half saw instant substitutions, with Aubameyang and the impressive Matteo Guendouzi on for Nketiah and Nelson respectively. It meant Auba would take up the wide spot, and Guendouzi would form a midfield 3 with Xhaka and Torreira.
We created a great chance after around fifteen minutes of the 2nd half, with Iwobi and Auba combining to set up Lacazette, but his effort was deflected for an easy save. We were inching towards another goal though.
And six minutes later, we had it. A great run into the box from Elneny found him in trouble, but he offloaded to Lacazette, who had the awareness to shift the ball to Aubameyang, and he guided an effort into the far corner.
Just before the goal, there was a flurry of more subs, with Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Elneny and Bellerin on for Iwobi, Torreira, Xhaka and Lichtsteiner, which changed little of the overall pattern of the game, but did give a workout to our squad.
There was little goalmouth action, and on the 77th minute there was more subs as Emery sought to get as much gametime for his men. Emile Smith-Rowe, Konstandinos Mavropanos and Sokratis came on for Lacazette, Chambers and Holding, as the entire starting eleven bar Leno and Maitland-Niles were swapped.
Guendouzi yet again had a performance that belied his years. Constantly dropping deep in an effort to start attacks, his raking balls to wide men opening up tight passages of play, the young Frenchman is doing his prospects of first team football no harm - he has to be in contention for next week versus City.
We nearly grabbed a third, but Auba and then Mkhitaryan were both denied by the Lazio keeper. There was plenty to take from this game though. Our squad look fit and together, we have plenty of viable options in most positions, and Emery is able to switch up tactics at the drop of a hat.
The time for friendlies is over - now it’s time to show our credentials and hopefully our new regime will hit the ground running.