Theo Walcott changed the course of this match. Is he doing the same with his Arsenal career?
In more ways than one he was the hero here in Gothenburg. On the pitch he scored one and made another to help his team come back from a goal down to beat Manchester City in their final pre-season encounter.
Criticised by his own fans towards the end of last season; their looked no way back for Walcott at the Emirates Stadium. Talk of leaving north London inevitably followed.
Fast-forward a few months and Walcott – at least during their tour of Scandinavia – is Arsenal’s sweetheart once more.
But Arsene Wenger’s glee was short-lived as he watched his only available senior centre-back Gabriel stretchered off, ironically in injury time, to leave him with a major selection headache ahead of next week”s season-opener versus Liverpool.
Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey made their first appearances of pre-season; the former starting in a central striker role underlining Arsenal’s need for a new striker this summer.
Wenger’s search for a centre-back was similarly highlighted; Gabriel and Rob Holding up against a Manchester front three of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Nolito.
And, for the most part, Arsenal’s back-four managed to keep a lid on the deadly City trio. For the most part.
Sterling’s cross; some sharp movement from Aguero to lose Holding…goal. It has to be said, City’s opener came against the run of play; Arsenal making a promising start before being smashed in the face with a sucker punch.
The Gunners were making City’s makeshift central defensive partnership of Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernando look less than ordinary; the duo’s first-half strewn with errors.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerin (Debuchy 77), Gabriel, Holding (Chambers 46), Monreal (Gibbs 77); Coquelin, Xhaka (Elneny 46); Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott 46), Ramsey (Cazorla 63), Iwobi (Campbell 69); Sanchez (Akpom 78)
Subs not used: Ospina, Martinez, Reine Adelaide, Zelalem, Willock
Goal: Iwobi 50, Walcott 73, Akpom 85
Manchester City (4-3-3): Caballero (Hart 46), Zabaleta (Sagna 63), Fernando (Adarabioyo 63), Kolarov, Clichy (Serrano 81), Fernandinho (Tasende 81), Silva (Navas 63), Delph (Toure 68), Nolito (De Bruyne 63), Sterling (Zinchenko 81), Aguero (Iheanacho 68)
Subs not used: Denayer, Becerra
Goal: Aguero 30, Iheanacho 87
Booked: Fernando, Aguero
Indeed, Fernando was booked within a minute for hauling down Sanchez when through on goal. The challenge would have warranted a red card in a competitive game.
Gabriel headed Ramsey’s resultant free kick wide as Arsenal dominated the early early exchanges.
Sanchez was a menace to City’s back four – this time robbing Gael Clichy in the 12th minute before directing a cross into Ramsey, who glanced a header narrowly over the bar,
The mistakes from City kept on coming, as did chances for Arsenal; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who looks sharp after recovering from the knee injury that ruled him out of the final weeks of last season – just missing the target with a cheeky chip in the 18th minute.
City’s threat, of course, was always there – it took Hector Bellerin’s block to prevent Aguero from firing Guardiola’s side ahead after a typically breathtaking run from the Argentine.
Francis Coquelin squandered Arsenal’s best chance of the half, his effort – with Willy Caballero nowhere to be seen – blocked on the line by Fernando after more poor defending from Kolarov.
Wenger sat helpless on the sidelines as his team missed chance after chance; though he did leave his seat to remonstrate with a reckless challenge from Fabian Delph on Sanchez.
And his mood didn’t improve in the 30th minute when City took the lead they probably didn’t deserve. But, in fairness, it wasn’t like Arsenal weren’t warned.
Just three minutes prior to Aguero’s strike, Pablo Zabaleta, unmarked, fired into the side-netting after Nolito’s pinpoint cross.
And Aguero’s goal was a virtual carbon copy of Zabaleta’s chance; Gabriel allowing Sterling too much time on the right to deliver a cross into his Argentine team-mate who volleyed home from close range.
Guardiola clenched his fist in celebration, he’d be the first to admit his team were fortunate, though.
The City manager would have been delighted with his team’s half-time lead, not so with his side’s defending despite their clean sheet.
With Vincent Kompany still injured and Nicolas Otamendi also on the sidelines, Guardiola has problems in the heart of defence.
Eliaquim Mangala is an option for next week’s Premier League opener but the fact he hasn’t travelled to Sweden suggests Guardiola is convinced by the Frenchman while there is academy product Tosin Adarabioyo, whose earned rave reviews during pre-season.
But, going into the new season, it’s a headache Guardiola could do without.
Indeed, judging by City’s first-half defensive display it was only a matter of time before they’d concede.
And so it proved when Alex Iwobi fired Arsenal level in the 50th minute slotting past Joe Hart, who came on at half-time, following Theo Walcott’s cross from the right.
Ten minutes later were close falling behind when Sanchez’s stunning free-kick crashed off the cross-bar after Fernando pushed the Chilean over right in front of referee Martin Strombergsson.
Hart was then forced to deny Walcott after some quick interplay between Bellerin and Sanchez.
As is invariably the case with pre-season friendlies; the raft of substitutions from both manager’s stemmed any momentum this encounter has gathered.
But Arsenal managed to grab the advantage their performance deserved in the 73rd minute.
It was the Theo Walcott show; gaining possession on the right touchline, he ripped into the heart of City’s defence, playing a give and go with Sanchez before cooly finishing past Hart.
Playing on the right-hand side – the position he’s confessed he’d prefer to play – changed this game for his team by scoring the winner and making the equaliser.
Arsenal had to endure a couple of nervy moments – substitute Yaya Toure firing over 14 yards after Kevin De Bruyne’s cross before Chuba Akpom scored a third for Arsenal in the 85th minute.
Kelechi Iheanacho headed home Jesus Navas cross in the 87th minute to set up a grandstand finish but Arsenal held on.