Arsenal's Rob Holding, Granit Xhaka debut; US export Gedion Zelalem returns

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The thousands of Gooner faithful who flocked to Avaya Stadium on Thursday night got to leave triumphant, as their beloved Arsenal topped the MLS All-Stars 2-1. And the night yielded more to celebrate for the visitors’ supporters – they took their first on-field glimpse of a couple newcomers, and another of a promising young prospect.

New defender Rob Holding took the field for the first time in an Arsenal jersey. And though Didier Drogba made this unforgettable, third-time’s-a-charm goal for the MLS side, Holding managed to deny his initial rebound attempt. After the game, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised Holding's quick mind.

“He’s adapted surprisingly in a very good way because he reads well the game and understands what’s going on and anticipates well,” Wenger said. “That’s a quality at such a young age I think you cannot find a lot.”

Wenger also praised Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, who debuted for the team as a substitute for Francis Coquelin at the second half. Over the next 45 minutes, he managed a tidy 94.2-percent pass completion rate, tantalizing fans with spicy thoughts of how he might combine with, say, Mesut Ozil. “He did adjust very well. His passing was clean, and technically he did well,” Wenger said. “That’s encouraging.”

The match also marked a milestone for US fans of promising young exports. Arsenal’s only American, 19-year-old Gedion Zelalem, entered the game in the 67th minute, subbing in for Mohamed Elneny.

“It was really good; I got 30 minutes or so against top players in MLS, so I’m really happy,” Zelalem said after the game. “[I’m] just trying to get better every day in reputation, just working harder on my defensive game.”

All three will have one more chance to prove their mettle while the team remains on American soil. Arsenal next head to Carson's StubHub Center for a friendly against Chivas on Sunday, July 31.