As far as stern pre-season tests go, it doesn’t get much more rigorous than taking on the Bundesliga’s sneakiest cheat merchants.
Bayern Munich were not just a step up in class from the opponents we faced in Australia, they were a relative leap into the stratosphere, and it was a welcome chance to step up the intensity of our preparations.
As the saying goes, however, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and so it proved again as a sickness bug descended upon the Arsenal squad, rendering several players unable to take to the field and poor Sead Kolasinac a vomiting wreck of a left wing back.
For those able to play, it was a tough test against a German side that, even in pre-season, in a game that meant little, played in ridiculous, overbearing humidity, proved itself willing to go to any lengths to win.
That willingness was demonstrated inside the opening 10 minutes as some especially cheaty Munich player took a quite ridiculous tumble in the area and the Chinese official happily bought the con and pointed to the spot.
It was a cheap, silly, mean-spirited thing to do in a pre-season friendly but, this is Bayern Munich, and gamesmanship and hypocrisy is what they do best.
However, I take nothing away from the level of their performance because, for large parts of the match, they were very good. If not for some wasteful finishing and excellent goalkeeping from Petr Cech in particular, they could have been out of sight long before Alex Iwobi’s glorious late equaliser.
As it was, Arsenal’s youngsters hung in there and, hopefully, will have learned a few things, particularly about decision making under pressure. Too often, faced with intense pressure from Munich, younger players were making silly, speculative passes into midfield.
These passes were easily cut out by the high-press of Munich and the pressure was further ramped up.
Giving cheap balls away from defence has been a real problem for the Gunners in the last six months and it really must be addressed if they are to avoid Alamo-style defending in the big games.
The Gunners, makeshift though they were, did manage to create a few good chances of their own, with Alexandre Lacazette, in particular, sent clear on goal with a quite excellent through ball from midfield. On this occasion, the German stopper was equal to the task but I’m sure Alexandre will sharpen up as the weeks go on and the matches keep coming.
Against such quality opposition, it was understandably a lot harder for our young stars to shine but most of them applied themselves well enough against the German champions. I feel Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a tough time on the right side of the defence and one wonders whether Arsene Wenger really expects him to make the step up into first team contention next season. At the moment, I can’t see it.
Huge kudos must go to Alex Iowbi, however, with the youngster having enjoyed a brilliant pre-season campaign thus far. He really has stepped up to the mark after a disappointing last three of four months of last season. His creativity, decision making and decisiveness on the ball is improving with every game and it was his intervention and hard work that ultimately yielded the equalising goal.
The Nigerian picked up the ball from deep, burst over the half-way line and laid wide to Aaron Ramsey before continuing a lung-busting run into the box. When the ball was floated perfectly into his path, he nodded past the Munich keeper to collect a late, late equaliser for the Gunners.
At this point, I though the spoils would be shared but it seems not, there was the added bonus of penalties and, despite our appalling track record of saving penalties in the last few season, Emiliano Martinez kept two out, with a third hitting the crossbar to gift glory to the Gunners.
You can’t help but feel that we came away with a result we didn’t necessarily deserve on the night but, frankly, I don’t care. This was much more about the level of performance against a top-level – albeit snide – opponent. The hard yards put in on the night will hopefully prove invaluable in the months ahead and the quality of football will also get better too.