Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took home the plaudits on Day One of the Emirates Cup 2015 but it was French teenager Jeff Reine-Adelaide who laid down his marker for first-team opportunities this season against Wolfsburg on Sunday. The 17-year-old, signed from Lens’ prestigious academy in the summer, came on as a substitute in the demolition of Lyon but was a surprise inclusion in the starting XI and certainly warranted the selection. Playing wide left, he combined bursts of speed and deft touches to help kick-start Arsenal’s lacklustre attack in the first-half. The teenager is direct and caught the eye with an array of skills. However, his telling contribution came in the second-half, playing deep behind Chuba Akpom, he swivelled to turn past his marker and in one fluid motion played through Theo Walcott for the opener. Defying his age, Reine-Adelaide played with composure and added to Arsene Wenger’s plethora of forward options for the upcoming season. On such evidence this weekend, the teenager is a shrewd acquisition and is ready to challenge the established ranks for first-team playing time.
The home crowd were treated to Petr Cech’s first appearance at Emirates Stadium as an Arsenal player and the former Chelsea favourite displayed all the qualities that had convinced Wenger to part with £11m. The 33-year-old was, as expected, calm and composed in the area, distributing the ball well with consummate ease. The Gunners back-line was susceptible to the pace of the Wolfsburg wide men and Cech was vocal in his organisation and dissatisfaction of any lapses in concentration. Cech comfortably dealt with the few Wolfsburg shots on target and was eager to immediately find a team-mate once in possession. He was called into action on the hour mark as Joshua Guilavogui unleashed a long range drive, which skidded towards the bottom left corner. Cech was alert and smothered the shot, a sight Arsenal fans will welcome all season long. A relatively untroubled but composed home debut and surely the Arsenal defence will have an extra steel this season with the Czech in goal.
Forward Theo Walcott is now Arsenal’s longest serving player, having signed from Southampton in January 2006. In almost a decade in north London, the perennial question has been whether Walcott can perform at the required level in his preferred central role. On Sunday Wenger trusted Walcott to lead the line. The England international spurned two clear-cut chances in the first-half to stamp his authority on the central role. In the 21st minute playmaker Mesut Ozil chipped through Walcott wide of the six-yard box but he delayed pulling the trigger and eventually curled a tame effort at Diego Benaglio’s outstretched leg. Moments later, Jack Wilshere scooped in a delightful through ball and Walcott found himself in on goal but once again hesitated and had possession swept away. A frustrating opening 45 was almost forgotten early in the second-half as the rapid forward latched onto Reine-Adelaide’s pass to fire the Gunners ahead on 50 minutes. You could sense the relief as Walcott sprinted off in celebration and it was a much needed goal to boost his claim to play centrally. With Olivier Giroud the current favourite and a host of other names vying to play down the middle, Walcott will need to be far more clinical. A standing ovation upon his departure on 75 minutes proved the fans believe in and appreciate Walcott’s endeavour. The main question is, does Wenger?
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