Gareth Bale played an integral role in the Spanish club winning four UEFA Champions League trophies, but after falling out of favor with the towering figure who is back at the coaching helm, the Welshman was a spectator Saturday and through the first half on this night.
When the teams returned from intermission, however, Bale pulled his warmup jersey over his man bun, played the second half and scored during Real’s 2-2 draw with the Gunners.
He scored in the 56th minute as part of a two-goal comeback and missed his attempt in a penalty kick tiebreaker, conducted immediately after regulation. Real won the shootout, 3-2.
“He decided he wanted to play today, so he played,” Real Coach Zinedine Zidane said through an interpreter. "He played a small part. We don’t know what is going to happen. We know the situation. It’s the same.”
Through club and tournament spokesmen, Bale declined to grant any postgame interviews.
“Impossible,” the Real official said. “He is not talking.”
Bale’s uncertain status has dominated the conversation during preseason preparations and intensified after he did not play — despite 11 substitutions at halftime — in a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in Houston.
Zidane said over the weekend that he could not wait for Bale to depart the club, drawing a rebuke from Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, who called Zidane a “disgrace.”
On the eve of the Arsenal match, Zidane said Bale had asked not to play against Bayern Munich.
What happens next is unclear. He is one of the most expensive players in the world, earning about $750,000 per week. Chinese clubs have expressed interest, but British reports suggest he would not go there for anything less than $1.2 million per week.
With that tense backdrop, Bale predictably was on the bench at the start of the match in Landover.
As he watched, Arsenal took charge early. In the ninth minute, Real’s Nacho Fernández received a second yellow card for intentionally handling Alexandre Lacazette’s shot in the six-yard box.
Lacazette capitalized, but just barely, firing a 10th-minute penalty kick that struck the left post, then the right, before creeping across the line.
With a man advantage, the Gunners extended the lead in the 24th on a clever assist by Lacazette. Near midfield, with his back to the goal, Lacazette used the bottom of his foot to roll along a moving ball behind the defense. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran onto it, rounded charging goalkeeper Keylor Navas and finished past a retreating defender.
Real was already trending in the right direction when it got back on even terms, in personnel anyway, when Arsenal’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos received his second yellow card in the 40th minute.
Real dominated the second half, halving the deficit in the 56th minute when Bale cleaned up a loose ball. Marco Asensio had created the chance with a deft touch in the box and a shot that was blocked by goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez.
Three minutes later, Real pulled even. A tight exchange between Asensio and Marcelo led to Asensio firing into the top near corner from 10 yards.
Asensio’s evening ended in the 64th, however. He was carried off on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a hospital with an apparent knee injury. It would be a major blow for the 23-year-old attacker, who made 30 La Liga appearances last season.
By the end of 90 minutes, Real had made 11 substitutions, Arsenal five. Despite the exhibition nature, however, both teams showed bite and ambition.
Bale played a featured role again in the 76th minute, making a goal-line clearance. Arsenal’s Edward Nketiah, 20, squandered two chances to break the tie late in regulation.
In the shootout, after Bale failed on Real’s first attempt, his teammates connected on three straight. Real’s Thibaut Courtois made one save, Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal hit the right post and Robbie Burton, 19, missed high.
Of the second-half comeback, Real defender Marcelo said: “We are warriors. We knew we could do it.”
Arsenal headed home to London, while Real will face La Liga rival Atletico Madrid on Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.