Football: Gunners a class apart

Football: Gunners a class apart
Arsenal club skipper Mikel Arteta lifting the Barclays Asia Trophy as his team-mates celebrate.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Arsenal 3 Everton 1

The swagger and the ease with which they swept Everton aside has given Arsenal a boost ahead of the new English Premier League season, where the title is the club's target.

In a convincing performance, the Gunners served notice of their title credentials by beating the Toffees 3-1 in the Barclays Asia Trophy final yesterday evening before a crowd of 52,107 at the National Stadium - a record figure for the Kallang arena that opened last June.

Arsenal, with new signing Petr Cech in goal, looked a complete team, comfortably dismantling the Merseysiders and looking a class apart at times.

At the heart of it all was 30-year-old Spanish pass master and captain for the night Santi Cazorla, who finished the night with one goal and two assists.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was a happy man at the post-match press conference as he left the floor in stitches with some witty replies.

Asked if he was surprised by his team's display, the Frenchman said: "A little bit, because yesterday we had quite a good strong session and I found the players a little bit tired but they were quite sharp today.

"I'm pleased with the performance because... we played in a very convincing way. It's good to increase the level of confidence with performances like that."

Theo Walcott, Cazorla, and Mesut Oezil scored to help Arsenal make it 14 wins in their last 18 matches. Ross Barkley netted a stunning consolation for the Toffees.

Cech, making his Arsenal debut after moving across London from Chelsea, also put in a decent shift in goal. While he was powerless to stop Barkley's screamer, the Czech pulled off a spectacular save to deny Luke Garbutt's ferocious shot from 20 metres out.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez bemoaned his side's lapses in concentration for the three goals, but praised his opponents.

Said the Spaniard: "We're probably facing the strongest Arsenal side, aside from Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal were very clinical, they took their chances well and are worthy winners."

Arsenal, known for their short-passing game, showed a willingness to deviate from Plan A, with Walcott's opener coming courtesy of a Cazorla long ball through the middle.

The Spaniard then doubled his team's lead, firing home just inside the area after flummoxing James McCarthy with his footwork.

Cazorla then found Oezil in the box with a slide-rule pass, and the German made no mistake.

Overall, it seemed like a fun day out for match-goers, even for the neutral fans.

Fund manager Chia Yew Nguan, 53, who does not have a favourite team, said: "I've never been to the National Stadium, so I thought it would be nice to soak up the atmosphere.

"It was electrifying, especially the Kallang Wave and the cheering."

Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud also had good memories of the tournament.

The forward said: "The people are fantastic. I know we have a lot of fans around the world, but every time I am surprised by the kindness. It's really nice for us."

Barkley's contributions lauded by manager

Everton manager Roberto Martinez was still smarting from last night's 1-3 loss to Everton in the Barclays Asia Trophy final but he had some positives to take away.

One was the form of key midfielder Ross Barkley. The England international was a constant menace to Arsenal's backline, and his efforts were duly rewarded when he belted a screamer past goalkeeper Petr Cech in the 76th minute.

His strike was not just the Blues' only goal in the biennial pre-season tournament, but arguably the pick of the lot over two days of competition at the National Stadium.

While Barkley, 21, had just two goals in 29 Premier League appearances last season, Martinez waxed lyrical about him and hoped that he can build on yesterday's performance for the upcoming season.

"Well, we all know how special Ross is," said Martinez.

"When you are looking at (him) in terms of the British players, we've got something quite unique.

"He's someone who wants to learn, to get new footballing concepts in terms of his tactical position. In terms of ability, you are not going to get a better technical player. It's a big season (for him). Two years ago, he was terrific. Last season on the back of the World Cup, it was challenging and he never looked away from the challenge. We are a strong football club with Barkley in the dressing room."

Added Barkley: "I like to take shots from distance, but I'm working on other sides of my game.

"I'm trying to get the goals from inside the box and am working on that in training."

Martinex angered by Blues move

His team had just lost 1-3 in the Barclays Asia Trophy final to English Premier League (EPL) rivals Arsenal, but it was another London club that annoyed Everton manager Roberto Martinez after the final whistle.

The burning question after the match to the Spaniard was on the reported £20 million (S$43 million) bid from reigning champions Chelsea for defender John Stones which was rejected by the Toffees.

And when a journalist suggested to Martinez that the Blues are coming back with a £30 million bid, the Everton manager sounded agitated in his reply.

"It is a disappointment to see a club make comments about our player. That is not how we would do it," blasted Martinez.

"We don't comment to the press on players that are registered with other clubs."

Stones stepped in for the Toffees last season when he earned a starting place in favour of veteran defender Sylvain Distin.

The 21-year-old's performances earned him a call-up to the England national team, and he made his competitive debut in the Three Lions' 2-0 away win over Switzerland in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Martinez said: "Stones is our player and we are not a selling club in that respect."

Earlier this week, Stones revealed to The Straits Times his intentions to stay and build a cohesive defensive partnership with fellow centre-back Phil Jagielka.

This article was first published on July 19, 2015.
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