Urawa Red Diamonds 1 Arsenal 2: Good Run-Out, Better Result
Arsenal’s time in Asia was coming to an end with a final fixtures against one of the J-League’s heavyweights, Urawa Red Diamonds. The hosts were without three of their key players that had joined the Japan National Team in a victory against Australia in what I believed was a qualifier.
Arsenal took to the pitch with a somewhat strong squad as Lukasz Fabianski was the custodian between the sticks with Ignasi Miquel, Per Mertesacker, a fit-again Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna providing defensive cover. In midfield, Arsene Wenger opted for the Ox to partner Mikel Arteta while Jack Wilshere had the honors of being Arsenal’s creative hub in the attacking midfield position. Serge Gnabry and Theo Walcott provided support to the red-hot Olivier Giroud.
Arsenal was quicker off the blocks with Walcott teeing up Gnabry with a quick free kick but after shimming a defender, Gnabry was robbed off the ball which paved the way for an Urawa counter attack but Koscielny was on hand to mop things up at the back. Tsukasa Umesaki was clean on goal from some distance and let one rip but Fabianski had it covered and allowed it go wide off the mark.
Urawa Red Diamonds is made up of an all-Japanese squad with a Brazilian, Marcio Richardes, being the only player with a different nationality and he almost stamped his authority on the game when he almost provided an inch-perfect through ball to a teammate but Koscielny anticipated the ball once again. Shortly afterwards, Walcott made a slalom run and beat all his markers before placing a cushioned ball past Norihiro Yamagishi in goal but the post spared the goalie’s blushes.
Miquel was opened up on the left hand side allowing Keisuke Tsuboi to drill the ball into Arsenal’s danger area. Everyone expected Fabianski to deal with the situation but he uncharacteristically spilled the ball to the path Richardes but Mertesacker did enough to make the Brazilian blast the ball over the bar from point blank range.
Jack Wilshere influence increase as the game progressed and he executed a lofted pass to Giroud but with the goalie rushing out of his line, the Frenchman lobbed the ball and it missed by a lick of paint. Some intricate interplay that began with an Ox dummy allowed Giroud to tee up Walcott with a neat through ball but the Englishman’s finish was wayward to say the least.
Wilshere won a free kick in the heart of the Urawa danger area but Giroud’s shot from the dead ball was deflected to a corner with the hapless goalie watching as he was caught out by the ball’s change of direction. The resulting corner kick was met with a dipping header from Mertesacker but Yamagushi managed to get his hands to it. The ball fell into Koscielny’s path and he unleashed a belter towards goal but Yamagushi made a second save. Gnabry won the ball and lofted it into the BFG’s path and with Mertesacker on the blind side of goal, he fashioned a chance for the Ox but his effort smashed the cross bar.
Tomoya Ugajin had a rare stint at goal and fired a finesse shot that was goal-bound but Fabianski made a top-drawer save to send the ball out for a corner. The ref’s whistle ended what I would regard as an entertaining spectacle.
As expected, Arsenal made wholesale changes in the start of the second half with Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson and homeboy, Ryo Miyaichi, coming into the fray. Interestingly, Jenko didn’t come on for Sagna but Mertesacker which saw Sagna go back to the center back position.
Arsenal began the second half with some renewed enthusiasm and the Gunners were rewarded early in the second half. A long ball was brilliantly controlled by Rosicky in midfield before he fed the Ox that quickly teed up Ramsey on his right. The Welshman drilled the ball into Walcott’s path that unselfishly located Podolski that used his Thor’s Hammer of a left foot to blast in the match’s opener. A magnificent team goal with Arsenal written all over it.
Rosicky used his upper body strength to evade a marker before feeding Walcott with an awesome chance but the forward’s tame shot was easy pickings for Yamagushi. Within minutes, Rosicky’s through ball sent Walcott through on goal and he used his after burners to leave the defenders for dead. However, instead of placing the ball past the goalie as he always does, Walcott inexplicably chose to dribble Yamagushi but the goalie smothered the ball to safety.
With Arsenal failing to take the initiative, an attack on the left from Kunimitsu Sekiguchi saw the winger nutmeg Jenkinson before winning a free kick. Richardes fired at goal from an awkward angle but Fabianski parried the ball away for a corner. The resulting corner was headed away but it kindly fell to Yuki Abe’s path and he blasted the ball past Fabianski to level the contest.
Urawa almost made it two when Koji Noda was clean on goal but Fabianski made himself big to make a fine save to keep his side in the game. The Ox’s bad luck continued as he fired another shot that hit the post. On the other end, Nobuhisa Yamada fired a long range shot that fizzled wide. Wenger put the Ox out of his misery by replacing him with the hot prospect, Gedion Zelalem.
On the left, Miyaichi attempted a couple of step overs before executing a neat one-two with Podolski. The young Jap sent a ball into the danger area but nobody was there to make any good use of the ball. Theo Walcott was replaced by Chuba Akpom shortly afterwards.
Aaron Ramsey dallied on the ball before locating Miquel with a neat pass. The Spaniard fired a cross that was met by Podolski on his favourite left boot but the disappointing finish didn’t match the buildup. There was also a bit of controversy when Podolski clashed with Richardes, and even the German’s foot hit the Brazilian on his hand, the cheating bloke fell with his hands on his face, much to Podolski’s disgust. After some heated exchanges, Richardes fired his free kick straight at Fabianski.
The match winner finally arrived when Ramsey lofted a diagonal ball towards Akpom’s direction. In a quick moment of madness no different from Arsenal’s late debacle against Birmingham in Wembley, Yamagushi and his defender were involved in a horrible mix-up allowing Akpom to blast the ball into an unguarded net.
In the dying moments, Rosicky teed up a ball for Ramsey that blasted wide but Sagna staked his claim for a center back berth when he made a last-ditch tackle to keep the score line intact.
In Arsene Wenger’s post-match conference, he spoke about the competitive nature of the game as well as the performances of Ryo Miyaichi and Serge Gnabry.
In summary, it was a good run-out and a better result to match.
The Asia Tour is over, see you at the Emirates Cup.
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