Match Report: Arsenal 1-1 Hangzhou Greentown

HANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 16: Theo Walcott (L) and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal gestures to the fans after the pre-season friendly match between Hangzhou Greentown and Arsenal at Yiwu Meihu Stadium on July 16, 2011 in Hangzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

0-1 Vazquez 15
1-1 Vela 45

Arsenal concluded their Asian tour with a fairly disappointing 1-1 draw with Hangzhou Greentown in front of 20,583. Fitness and finances were the more important aspect of this trip, but the second game was a more helpful exercise in terms of exposing the some old weaknesses. 

First Half Lineup: Mannone, Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Traore, Frimpong, Rosicky, Nasri, Vela, van Persie, Arshavin

Hangzhou started as the better side, creating a chance after about a minute when a quick one-two beat the offside trap, before Vito Mannone made a good save with his legs. Arsenal were having problems breaking down Hangzhou, who despite being 8th in the Chinese Super League, have a good defensive record, conceding only 14 goals in 16 games. By the way they defended here, it is easy to see why, as they went for the typical how to beat Arsenal approach by defending deep, in numbers and playing long balls into the channel. Defensively, Arsenal were hamstrung by Squillaci's lack of pace and also the lack of pressing which allowed Hanzhou time to play long balls. Neither Vela nor Arshavin are eager to do defensive duty, and thus, as a team, Arsenal suffered from it. 

Hangzhou finally took a deserved lead from, rather predictably, a set piece. Sebastien Squillaci lost the player he was supposed to be marking, and when Mannone made a hash of the catch, Sebastien Vazquez beat Squillaci to the second ball and poked home. It was an ugly goal to concede, but one that unfortunately has been seen too many times to be dismissed out of hand. Organisation is key on defending set pieces, and while Arsenal defended subsequent ones better, it still appears that defending set pieces is not high on the training agenda. 

With Hangzhou defending deep, Arsenal had problems breaking them down, and the performance of Samir Nasri didn't help. While he didn't have a bad game, his interpretation of the role that Cesc Fabregas plays is faulty, and if rumours about him being given the number 10 role at Arsenal are true, Arsenal will find it harder to break teams down. As TheBackwardsGooner pointed out on Twitter, Nasri passes and moves too much. What that means is that instead of being available on the edge of the box for return passes and one-twos, like Cesc Fabregas, Nasri is making runs into goalscoring positions quite early in the build up, thus relying on someone else to provide the final ball. Cesc Fabregas, on the other hand, usually makes quite late runs into the box, and thus moves don't break down as often as they did yesterday in the first half. When Arsenal did get the equaliser, it was Andrey Arshavin who took up a central playmaking role to chip in Robin van Persie, who's shot was saved but turned in by Carlos Vela. 

Second Half lineup: 

Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Chamakh, Miyaichi

The second half performance, though it didn't get any goals, was much better than the first half. Here, Arsenal were much more dynamic in their play, and their pressing. Ramsey is a much better understander of the Fabregas role, and thus the play wasn't breaking down all the time. Arsenal's pressing meant that it was hard for Hangzhou to play long balls, and thus the two centre backs and Szczesny had an easy time of it. Arsenal pressed for the winning goal, but were unable to take advantage of several good chances, with Theo Walcott missing a couple and Marouane Chamakh and Aaron Ramsey having several shots saved. Despite not getting a goal, the second half performance was much better than the first, and if Arsenal were sharper, they would've won. At this point in the season though, it is about fitness and performance more than results, and thus Arsenal can be relatively pleased with their Asian tour. 

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