Scottish Premiership side Hibernian hosted Arsenal for a preseason friendly on Tuesday in a match that was very much a tale of two teams heading on opposite trajectories.
One club was preparing for European football after coming off its best league finish in 15 years — a season where it reached the semifinal of one domestic cup and the final of another.
The other was Arsenal.
The Gunners were reeling from a second consecutive eighth-place finish in the EPL and will be without European football this season for just the third time in the Premier League era.
Despite Arsenal's poor form in recent seasons, a match against Hibs to begin the preseason seemed like the perfect opportunity (in theory) for the team to show its Scottish neighbors how to play some real football.
This was a Hibernian side that started the preseason slowly, conceding three goals in a victory over Civil Service Strollers of the Lowlands League (fifth tier in Scotland), before losing to League One's Accrington Stanley and drawing against Championship side Stoke City.
A huge thanks to all the supporters who attended tonight’s game and we wish @HibernianFC well for the season ahead#togetherwecandoit pic.twitter.com/1xNimSkj0F
— Civil Service Strollers FC (@csstrollers) July 2, 2021
The Gunners appeared to be off to a dream start within five minutes as Hibs centerback Paul Hanlon gifted a back-pass to Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah. With only the keeper to beat, Nketiah managed to shoot the ball wide of the target.
Tough miss by Eddie Nketiah in Arsenal's first friendly of the season. pic.twitter.com/F97lmXQAXU— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 13, 2021
Inspired by their Scottish opponents, Arsenal would return the favor 15 minutes later. Harrison Clarke, a 20-year-old centerback who spent last season on loan at League Two Oldham Athletic, played a difficult back-pass toward goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo.
The 19-year-old keeper (who has yet to make a senior competitive appearance for any club) stumbled, then swung and missed with his right foot, giving Hibernian's Martin Boyle a tap-in — which he did not miss.
Arsenal Football is Back!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/0MshLybAQK
Boyle himself could not quite believe that a team that considered itself good enough to be part of the European Super League could not even play a simple back-pass correctly.
In typical Arsenal fashion, the Gunners controlled possession but made very little use of the ball. Their suffering was doubled midway through the second half when Hibernian added another goal thanks to some more inexplicable play by the London side.
Paul Hanlon rose above two Arsenal defenders on a corner kick to win the header at the far post, sending it back across goal toward two wide-open Hibs teammates. In the end, Daniel Mackay headed home from just inches away — with nary an Arsenal player within five yards of him.
Hibernian takes a 2-0 lead over Arsenal pic.twitter.com/vAdeJEdNDi
Yet just when it seemed that Arsenal couldn't Arsenal any more, it managed to find a little more Arsenal left in the tank.
Nicolas Pépé was fouled by Paul McGinn (older brother of Aston Villa's John McGinn) inside the penalty area, giving the Gunners a lifeline in the match. Pépé — who has scored 15/16 penalties in his professional career — stepped up to take the shot, only for it to be saved by Maciej Dąbrowski in goal.
PEPE MISSES THE PENALTY pic.twitter.com/rXzD51Ru3f
Arsenal would get a goal back through Emile Smith Rowe in the 82nd minute, but the match would finish 2-1 in favor of Hibernian.
There were muted celebrations in Edinburgh, as a victory over the eighth-best team in England is not particularly impressive for a club that will be playing European football this season.
Maybe Arsenal can learn a thing or two from their neighbors to the north, because the lads from Leith were the best players on the pitch today.