SINGAPORE: An under-strength Arsenal side qualified for the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy on Saturday (Jul 18), beating a gutsy Singapore Select XI 4-0 on Wednesday evening.
A hat-trick from academy striker Chuba Akpom and a goal from the spot by England international Jack Wilshere helped the Gunners on their way to the win. The referee awarded two penalties to Arsenal, with Wilshere and Akpom both converting in front of a crowd of 29,867 at the National Stadium.
However, the match was also notable for the absentees from the match-day squad, with stars such as new keeper Petr Cech, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny not used.
On the field, the more established players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Debuchy and Francis Coquelin all played their part to put the Gunners through the final.
Arsenal's Mathieu Debuchy (left) and Singapore Selext XI's Sirina Camara (right) at the National Stadium. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Singapore Select XI's Safuwan Baharudin (left) and Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (right) at the National Stadium. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Oxlade-Chamberlain was a constant threat, driving through Singapore Select’s midfield at will sometimes, and he had a shot cleared off the line by Madhu Mohana in the 58th minute.
Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showing concern to Singapore Select XI's Shaiful Esah. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Akpom, too, showed that he might be ready for the step-up into the first team with his pace and movement up top a constant worry for the host’s backline. This was particularly evident in the second half as the players in red tired.
The Singapore Select XI did not “park the bus”, as coach V Sundramoorthy promised too, which helped make for a more entertaining spectacle. The side held their own in the first half, with some composed, slick passing, but the visiting side’s better fitness and skills eventually shone through.
Singapore Select XI's Khairul Amri takes a free kick. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Ultimately, local Gunners fans were treated to a glimpse of the future when most of the academy youngsters were substituted in for the last half hour. The likes of Hector Bellerin, who had a breakthrough 2014/15 season, Gedion Zelalem and Jon Toral, who won the second penalty, all played a part in the comfortable victory.
"Singapore played really well, actually. Better than expected," said Nana Afiq, 16. "I thought they would be trashed 6-0, especially the second half. "I've been a fan of Arsenal since I was 8, so it's a huge achievement for me to get autographs and a picture with them as well. I'm really proud of you guys!"
"This is the first time we're watching an Arsenal match live," said Suyash, 28, and Vishesh, 30. "We've been fans for 11 years since 2004. We were so happy when they got the penalty kick. A great performance, keep winning, we are looking forward to seeing you on Saturday!"
SINGAPORE SIDE 'ELECTRIFYING'
During the post-match press conference, Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger acknowledged that he left out nine players from the match-day squad with an eye on Saturday. “The players only came back on Friday, and I wanted them to have at least a week of training before they play,” he said.
As to whether the nine, including Cech, Cazorla and Ozil, will feature in the final against Everton on Saturday, Arsene said he has “not decided yet but we will see then, of course”.
He also took time to praise the Singapore Select XI, saying they were “very electrifying” in the first half, with the starting 11 all catching the eye. "I don’t know what they had for lunch,” Arsene said. “They didn’t create much, but it was difficult to get the ball off them."
Singapore Select XI coach V Sundramoorthy, too, said his side played well and “were unlucky with the two penalties”, otherwise the final score would be “more respectable”.
On the drop in performance in the second half, Sundram said: “For us, the games were played on fasting month unfortunately. Most of the boys were fasting. I wish that these games were played after the fasting month, and then we could have played the same way as we did in the first half.”
However, for midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman, the match was a “big eye opener”. “It was a really good footballing lesson,” he said, particularly the way they played through his team’s midfield.
"It was very enjoyable," Oxlade-Chamberlain said. "I think there were up to 30,000 fans, most of which had Arsenal shirts and were cheering for us so that's always very nice, especially when you're so far away from home."
Source: ChannelNews Asia