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Arsenal triumph 2-1 in MLS All-Star Game courtesy of Akpom winner
Major League Soccer fans cannot see enough of the league’s top strikers. If it had been entirely up to the fans, this year’s All-Star team would have consisted of ten attackers and a goalkeeper out of necessity. For practicality, coach Dominic Kinnear also drafted defenders to the team, but at times it seemed like the All-Stars could never have enough of them as they fell 2-1 to Arsenal in front of a buoyant crowd at Avaya Stadium.
Arsenal’s incisiveness up front was too much to handle for even the best MLS defenders, and Chuba Akpomb’s late strike gave the Gunners the victory. Akpomb was amongst a handful of young substitutes for Arsenal who gave Arsene Wenger’s men an injection of pace and energy late on that proved decisive on the night.
The game had a slow tempo early on, as to be expected, but was nevertheless littered with crowd-pleasing moments, such as a neat move from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second minute to break away from his man. The English midfielder also made a cheeky nutmeg in the twelfth minute, and then there was a David Villa bicycle attempt midway through the half and a Didier Drogba bicycle attempt shortly afterward.
But while the All-Star team seemed to jerk from one flashy moment to the next, Arsenal’s organization and fluidity eventually came out on top.
Andrea Pirlo, for instance, was uncharacteristically sloppy on the ball and his poor interception led to Theo Walcott’s early shot. However, just a few moments later he came out with a moment of class that few other players in the world are capable of with a gorgeous lobbed ball over the top onto the run of Giovani dos Santos. The LA Galaxy forward’s low half-volley from the right side of the box was parried by Cech.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 29, 2016
Arsenal took the lead just seven minutes in as Joel Campbell won a penalty after poking a long ball over the onrushing Blake and colliding with Laurent Ciman. The Costa Rican striker coolly converted from the spot to give the Gunners the lead.
In the seventeenth minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain arrowed a twenty-five-yard effort narrowly wide and Mohamed Elneny drove a similar effort just over the crossbar a few minutes later. Arsenal began to find their passing rhythm and Theo Walcott had a glorious opportunity to double their lead on the break, but couldn’t trouble Blake with a low effort straight at the goalkeeper.
David Villa was a lightning rod of energy up top for the All-Stars but Didier Drogba was isolated as a lone striker and gradually shifted wider and wider to get on the ball. Towards the end of the half the All-Stars began to lose what little shape they had to begin with and Drogba’s opportunity to score on his former Chelsea teammate Petr Cech was rapidly dwindling as the half lulled to a close. Drogba breathed life back into the Avaya Stadium crowd by scoring with the last kick of the half.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 29, 2016
Sacha Klejestan’s through ball opened up a pocket of space in the middle for Giovani dos Santos, who fed Drogba’s run down the right in turn. The forward saw his first low effort denied by Petr Cech, and then his second by a defender on the line. Only at the third time of asking could Drogba finally put the ball into the back of the net to the roar of the Avaya stadium crowd.
The dynamic changed in the second half as Dominic Kinnear rolled out an entirely new cast of All-Stars. Sebastian Giovinco ran the show in the middle and Giovinco forced Petr Cech into a fantastic fingertip save with a curling effort from the edge of the area in the forty-seventh minute.
Substitute Chris Wondolowski also fired well over from fifteen yards on the breakaway, yet Arsenal’s organization and depth eventually triumphed over the All-Stars’ flash.
Arsenal debutant Granit Xhaka saw his driven twenty-five yard parried by David Bingham and tested the American goalkeeper again with a curling free-kick from twenty-five yards out.
Rob Holding rose up three minutes later to head a corner narrowly over the bar and Akpomb finally sealed the victory with four minutes to go, tapping home the simplest of tap-ins from Nacho Monreal’s cutback.