Arsenal’s pre-season preparations got off to a losing start as they were beaten 2-1 by Hibernian at Easter Road.
The Gunners, who included Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian, Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in their starting line-up, were behind in the 21st minute as Martin Boyle pounced on goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo’s error to hand Hibs the lead.
Half-time substitutes Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey both went close to an equaliser in the early stages of the second half, but Hibs capitalised on more defensive frailties from Arsenal as Daniel Mackay added a second.
Arsenal spurned a late opportunity as Kevin Dabrowski brilliantly kept out Pepe’s penalty, but the Gunners did eventually get their goal as Emile Smith Rowe turned home Hector Bellerin’s cross.
However, it wasn’t enough to stop defeat as Hibernian held on for victory in what was a much-needed workout for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Arsenal’s pre-season continues on Saturday when they face Scottish champions Rangers (kick off 2pm), while Hibernian are back in action on Friday at Raith Rovers (kick-off 7pm).
How Arsenal stumbled at Hibernian…
Nketiah, who has been linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium this summer, was handed an early chance to impress but the England U21 striker, who was one-on-one with former Gunners goalkeeper Matt Macey, fired the ball wide of the target.
Arsenal continued to put the hosts under pressure and Macey had to be alert to deny Reiss Nelson before Nketiah headed another chance wide.
However, Arteta’s side’s positive start was undone by an awful moment for young keeper Okonkwo, who was making his debut for the Gunners. The 19-year-old failed to deal with Cedric Soares’ back pass and missed the bouncing ball, allowing Boyle to tap into an empty net.
Okonkwo would have been feeling better moments later as he kept out Boyle’s long-range effort before Steven Bradley’s low strike hit the upright as Hibs pressed for a second just before the half-time interval.
Arsenal made a number of changes at the break as Okonkwo, Harry Clarke, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Nketiah, Willian and Aubameyang made way for Karl Jakob Hein, Omar Rekik, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Partey, Alexandre Lacazette and Folarin Balogun, while Dąbrowski replaced Macey in goal for Hibs, and he was thrust straight into the action, producing a superb save to keep out Pepe’s goal-bound free kick.
There were more changes for both sides as Bellerin replaced Cedric for the Gunners, while Josh Campbell and Drey Wright replaced Scott Allan and Bradley for the hosts.
Arsenal went close to an equaliser when Partey’s powerful free kick had Dabrowski beaten, but the ball rattled the inside of the post as Hibernian survived.
And the Scottish side went on to capitalise on more poor defensive work from Arsenal as Mackay ghosted in unmarked at the far post from a corner to head home and extend Hibs’ lead further.
Arsenal did have the chance to get back into the game late on as a push on Balogun in the Hibs box resulted in a penalty, but Pepe’s spot kick was saved by Dabrowski to somewhat sum up the Gunners’ evening.
They did get on the score sheet late on as Smith Rowe converted Bellerin’s inviting cross, but it proved to be only a consolation.
What the managers said…
Hibernian boss Jack Ross: “It’s an important part of our preparations for next Thursday and we were fortunate to have such high calibre opposition to play. So, we had to work incredibly hard without the ball.
“The fact that they changed their team at half time as well meant that both sides we faced in each half had an energy about them.
“So, delighted with the work we put into the game. I was delighted with the threat we offered as well and you want to develop the habit of winning games as quickly as you can, particularly as you get close to your first competitive game.
“Overall, it was just a really good night for us.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “Well I’m always disappointed when we lose a football match but it is the first game, we played with many kids and we only had four training sessions. We’ve trained really hard and you could see that the players were a little bit leggy.
“I think we conceded the first goal, an accident, and the second goal was clearly offside. We created many, many chances but we didn’t score. That’s what pre-season is for, to take the things that we haven’t done well into a training session and then improve.
He knows that it is a part of the game he needs to get better at. We are working on it a lot and you could see the positions that he took today. He created two or three big chances.
On whether the lack of training so far explains the performance, Arteta added: “It does but there’s no excuse because we want to come here and win the match.
“They worked really hard, the boys worked really hard and you could see that some of them were not in the best condition, but we’re still very early in pre-season. It was great to see some of the young lads making their debuts here. We’ll keep working.”