The fans turned up to watch the likes of Neymar and Mbappe take centre-stage. While they were disappointed by their absence, 50,308 turned up on a warm Saturday evening to watch Arsenal face Paris Saint-Germain.
That attendance, an ICC Singapore record, is more than double of Thursday’s, consequently leading to one of the better atmospheres experienced in the National Stadium. There were six goals in all, but the 5-1 scoreline to Arsenal doesn’t tell half of the tale.
As it were, the game was evenly balanced for the best part. Gunners Captain Mesut Ozil opened the scoring early on, a goal that produced a resounding roar of applause from fans. It was heartening to see such united support for him. 1-0 was the scoreline at half-time, and it felt like Arsenal would eventually come out on top.
Despite Christopher Nkunku converting a penalty earned by Timothy Weah, the depth Arsenal had in Singapore came out to the fore. Emile Smith-Rowe teed up Alexandre Lacazette before the Frenchman added another one four minutes later.
Rob Holding added a fourth with a looping header towards the end of normal time before Eddie Nketiah added further gloss to the result to make it 5-1. All four goals in the second half were scored by the substitutes, and the difference was obvious.
PSG missed their key players
PSG were missing Julian Draxler, Marco Verratti and Layvin Kurzawa, as well as the natural defender Colin Dagba. That meant Tuchel had players playing out of their normal position in a three centre back formation.
Lassana Diarra filled in at the back once again while Adrien Rabiot marshalled the midfield. Up front, Timothy Weah and Nkunku toiled. They acquitted themselves well enough against a much stronger side that had acclimatised longer to the humidity.
Buffon made a few excellent saves, but at the end of the day, there was too much of a gap between both sides. This matchup was nearly identical to the Bayern Munich game as the game was tight for an hour but PSG eventually gave way.
Tuchel happy with the performance of "B team"
Tuchel is unlikely to care too much. In the press conference, he pointed out how Arsenal’s XI was much closer to their eventual strongest lineup, while PSG’s side was much more of a B team.
“It was a good start in the first half and then we were way to open in the centre and conceded a transition goal and we lost confidence and made too many easy mistakes. Perhaps the approach was a bit too optimistic – we wanted to control the game and have the confidence to control the game,” said Tuchel.
“It was my approach today and I take this on my shoulders because the guys were trying very, very well and they were a lot of good catches in our last game against Bayern with the ball. So we felt maybe we are ready to do this today under that kind of pressure. But the quality on the other side, it was a Premier League team that could immediately play in any competition in Europe.”
Revenge for Emery
For Emery, it was another promising show. It is another step towards the league opener in two weeks, and a morale-boosting performance like this will do no harm to confidence.
The players were enjoying themselves, complete with some dance moves, and they will only be strengthened when the few World Cup players return. Arsenal’s advantage at the start is obvious: having few players at the World Cup means they have a much fitter and cohesive squad. They will have to make use of it.
Kolasinac’s error to concede the penalty might count against him once Nacho Monreal eventually returns. There is plenty of positivity and with the squad depth, Arsenal could make inroads this season. It was a successful tour, both on the pitch and commercially, and having connected with fans from Asia, they will fly back with greater emphasis on the impending opener.
This was a game that, fan loyalties aside, had a bit of everything. It had goals, star players (mostly) and a great atmosphere.
It is this template that the ICC will do well to learn from in 2019. Unai Emery got one over his former employees. The game itself will remain more memorable for the fans than for the players itself, but it was another step towards building match fitness. Those in the National Stadium had their money’s worth of entertainment.