Arsenal get title shot in the arm with win over Everton
Arsenal add steel to their resolve as they beat Everton 3-1 to win the Barclays Asia Trophy
(ROSS BARKLEY 75)
(Theo Walcott 22, Santi Cazorla 55, Mesut Oezil 59)
After last term's poor start, Arsene Wenger has made it clear that Arsenal's title hopes will hinge on how well they begin this coming season.
If last night's outing was anything to go by, Arsenal look set to fly off the starting blocks this time.
With an excellent 3-1 victory over Everton in front of 52,107 spectators at the National Stadium, the Gunners will return home with the Barclays Asia Trophy and, crucially, a huge confidence boost.
Manchester United may have been stealing the headlines with some high-profile signings recently to suggest that it won't be going all Chelsea and Manchester City's way in the new season.
But there was also a certain steel about Arsenal's resolve, one that has not been seen at the Emirates Stadium for almost a decade.
Wenger's worry won't be about whether his players can rise to the challenge.
He seems to have assembled a squad capable of a genuine Premiership title shot.
If they can steer clear of the injuries that seemed to plague the club in recent campaigns, then the London outfit will be up there with the likes of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs in the final straight.
There was nothing friendly about last night's encounter, as both sets of Premiership players put in committed displays.
But it was Arsenal who demonstrated their eagerness to get back to Premiership business quickly with a performance that oozed class from back to front.
With Wenger fielding a starting line-up that looked very close to his best 11 available, the Gunners controlled the game from start to finish, with Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Oezil scoring a goal apiece.
The loudest cheers, though, were reserved for new signing Petr Cech.
Seeing him in an Arsenal shirt may take some getting used to, but the former Chelsea goalkeeper's reassuring presence in goal was all too familiar.
The excellent backline packed a potent mix of dash and composure. Calum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny in the centre hardly put a foot wrong, while Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs' zest on the flanks was a delight to watch.
The reliable Olivier Giroud, who spearheaded their attack, was ably aided by a formidable support crew.
The craft of Jack Wilshere and Oezil was a nightmare to defend against, while the speedy Walcott proved to be the focus of their lightning-quick raids.
In the middle of the park, Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey provided the calming influence.
Those who came off the bench grabbed their chances to stake a claim for a first-11 place.
In particular, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, so full of energy and tricks down the right, is one to watch over the next year.
Even Wenger was surprised at how sharp his team looked yesterday.
He said at the post-match media conference: "A little bit (surprised), yes. We had a good, strong (training) session yesterday, but they looked quite sharp today."
And when Wenger has a full complement of players to pick from, he will find also Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky and David Ospina - all of whom are not in Singapore - at his disposal.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez, whose side pulled one back through a spectacular Ross Barkley goal, noted that Wenger had picked his best 11 for the game, with the exception of Sanchez.
And he was impressed with how they looked, although he was disappointed with the way his own team conceded the three goals.
He said: "This was the strongest Arsenal side. They were very clinical.
"But the three goals we let in were very poor by our standards.
"But it was a perfect way to test our squad."
For Arsenal, the performance was the ideal first salvo they have fired to their title rivals.
For the first time in a long while, they are finally looking like the real deal.
WHAT THEY SAY...
"I am pleased with the performance. For long periods, we played convincingly and we played the way we wanted to play. Each of the two games we played have been positive."
- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
"If it’s as simple as that, then I will play the Asia Trophy every year. I have been around long enough to know that it (the title) will depend on our performances. It’s good to start preseason with performances like these."
- Wenger on the last Barclays Asia Trophy winners, Man City, going on to win the EPL title
WHAT THEY SAY...
In pre-season, you don’t get many opportunities to play such a competitive game and meet the quality of Arsenal. It was a great workout. It also showed the aspects of pre-season, because we had lapses of concentration. The three goals we conceded were poor by our standards.
- Everton manager Roberto Martinez
We all know how special he is. In terms of what he is as a footballer, he is a dream. In terms of ability, you are not going to have a better technical player.
- Martinez on goalscorer Ross Barkley