SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Arsenal prevailed in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game on Thursday, defeating the MLS All-Stars 2-1.
A first-half penalty kick by Joel Campbell put the Gunners 1-0 up in the 11th minute, only for the North London club's old nemesis Didier Drogba to equalize in first-half stoppage time. It appeared that the game might be headed for a draw and a penalty shootout, but substitute Chuba Akpom tapped home Nacho Monreal's low centering feed in the 87th minute to give the Gunners the win.
Here are three thoughts from the game:
1. Mission accomplished for Arsenal
As preseasons go, this hasn't been the smoothest time for the Gunners. Per Mertesacker will miss several months after undergoing knee surgery. Gabriel Paulista is out with tonsillitis. And the lack of transfer activity compared to Arsenal's biggest rivals has been unsettling, though there is still time.
To be clear, it would be foolish to read too much into Thursday's encounter, especially given the liberal substitution rules and the Arsenal players who were missing, such as Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey. The most important aspect was that major injuries were avoided.
That said, the performance looked very familiar for reasons both good and bad. As is their wont, Arsenal entertained in all manner of ways. Not only did the Gunners look comfortable in possession, but the trio of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell looked dangerous on the counterattack. Given the number of chances that were created, about the only thing that was missing was the finishing touch -- a lament with which the club's fans are all too familiar.
The only time Arsenal found the net in the first half was thanks to Campbell's 11th-minute penalty kick after he was hauled down in the box by Montreal Impact defender Laurent Ciman. Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular should have done better with a 15th-minute opportunity when he beat Ciman but shot weakly at Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake.
The sight of Arsenal getting punished late in the half after so much enterprising play was similar as well, and the poor defending in the sequence that led to Drogba's goal will do little to allay concerns about the state of the club's defense.
That said, Arsenal persevered and ended up with the victory thanks to Monreal's dead-eye delivery and Akpom's perfectly timed run.
2. Drogba gets one over on old teammate Cech
One of the subplots heading into the game was the matchup between two old Chelsea teammates, Drogba and Petr Cech. Drogba even noted prior to the match that he would text Cech a picture of the goal for the next year if he managed to score.
Cech's phone will be lighting up for some time.
After Campbell put the Gunners ahead, it looked like the game would stay that way heading into halftime. Drogba had been pretty quiet up to that point. The closest he came to threatening Cech was when Drogba drew a foul in the 41st minute just outside the box, but he hit his subsequent free kick into the wall.
Then Drogba struck in the second minute of first-half stoppage time thanks to some dreadful play by Arsenal. A sloppy pass out of the back by Krystian Bielik was picked off by Sacha Kljestan, who immediately found Giovani Dos Santos in the clear. Dos Santos threaded a pass to Drogba in the box and the fun began. Cech did well to stuff Drogba's initial effort, and the Ivorian's rebound attempt was blocked by Arsenal defender Rob Holding. The third time proved to be the charm indeed, as Drogba tucked that rebound into the net.
Drogba noted prior to the match that there is a group chat comprised of numerous former Chelsea players. It looks like the banter will be ratcheted up now, though Cech can point to the fact that his side won the match.
3. Give credit to the All-Stars
MLS All-Star manager Dominic Kinnear was right when he said in the pregame news conference that as a league MLS didn't have anything to prove in the match. No broad, sweeping conclusions would be drawn, either. MLS remains what it is, an up-and-coming league that has many rungs to climb in the pecking order of leagues around the world.
Still, the players comprising the MLS All-Stars wouldn't have been named to the squad without possessing a considerable amount of pride and competitive fire. For that reason, the MLSers can still feel good about their the match, despite the defeat.
The thrown-together nature of the MLS All-Star squad can make for some uneven play, which was certainly evident at times in this match. But there were moments when the All-Stars showed off their quality, and given the names involved, it isn't a surprise.
Kaka looked bright in 45 minutes of work, offering some hope that he can move beyond the injuries that have seen him miss half of Orlando City SC's 20 league games this season. David Villa reminded everyone that he still possesses plenty of attacking verve. Kljestan's alertness paved the way for Drogba's equalizer, and Keegan Rosenberry continued to show solid play and confidence going forward.
There have been years when the MLS All-Stars have been humbled. That certainly wasn't the case on this occasion.