Three things learned from Arsenal’s amazing win vs. Leicester

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LONDON — For most of the opening 83 minutes it looked like Arsenal would start up the season with their now customary demoralizing defeat.

Leicester City rolled into the Emirates Stadium on Friday night and led the Gunners 3-2 with seven minutes left for what looked like a shock win. Hold your horses.

Two goals from subs Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in two minutes late on saw Arsenal go 4-3 up as they started off the Premier League season in incredible, breathtaking fashion.

A classic PL encounter saw Arsenal lead 1-0 after 94 seconds. Then Leicester went 2-1 up. Then Arsenal pulled it back to 2-2. Then Leicester went 3-2 up and then Arsenal’s late two-goal show saw them take all three points.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating encounter in north London to open up the new PL campaign.


ARSENAL’S INCREDIBLE SPIRIT RESURFACES

This Arsenal side has a true never say die attitude. Numerous times at the back end of last season they found winners late on. They did it again to win the FA Cup in May. And they outlasted Chelsea to win on penalty kicks last weekend at Wembley.

Even though they showcased most of their flaws on Friday, you can’t fault the spirit of Arsene Wenger‘s men.

Given their poor opening day record (one win in seven before Friday) we should’ve expected another opening day collapse but given their fine preseason form and an impressive display against Chelsea to win the Community Shield last weekend at Wembley, this inept display against Leicester City was hard to believe. Yet somehow they still grabbed all three points to keep the feel-good factor intact. For now.

Petr Cech was shaky on Leicester’s first and second goals. Young center back Rob Holding (he was subbed out in the second half) was targeted by Christian Fuchs and Marc Albrighton with Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin giving him no protection. Central midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were nervous on the ball and slack in possession to gift Leicester the ball in dangerous positions time and time again. Slack zonal marking allowed Jamie Vardy to make it 3-2.

Wenger was left shaking his head on the sidelines for much of the opening 67 minutes of this game with Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud brought on to try and rescue a point. Somehow they got more than that.

Those subs forced a desperate defensive reshuffle which saw a winger (Oxlade-Chamberlain) at right back, two left backs (Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac) at center back and a right back (Bellerin) at left back, and some of the reasons for this disjointed display were due to Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker all being unavailable. That’s acceptable but perhaps proved that Arsenal’s second-string defenders may not be as good as we thought.

Following his new two-year contract the pressure had eased on Wenger over the summer after improved displays in April and May with a 3-4-3 system, an FA Cup victory to end last season and the signing of Alexandre Lacazette.

Wenger will get plenty of the plaudits once again for a dramatic opening night win which saw his two subs work perfectly.

Still, with no end in sight to the Ozil and Alexis Sanchez contract saga, how long will it be before a shock defeat, which this easily could have been, will force the “Wenger Out” banners to appear once again?


SLIGHT HOPE FOR LEICESTER

There were glimpses that this season will be about much more than just settling for midtable obscurity for Leicester.

The way they ruthlessly pounced on Arsenal mistakes was highlighted by their second via a Albrighton cross for Vardy to tap home at the back post. Vintage Leicester.

They sat back, forced Arsenal into making mistakes and had Vardy’s pace on the break to hurt the Gunners. Yes, they looked shaky at times in defense with Lacazette and Welbeck combining well in and around the box, but most teams struggle with that against Arsenal.

There is no excusing the way Craig Shakespeare‘s men collapsed late in the game to have victory snatched away from them as they left north London empty handed. Yet there is hope they can play like this against most teams in the PL and win games.

Still, not the ideal start for Shakespeare as a manager who has spent plenty of cash ahead of first full season in charge in the Premier League.


LACAZETTE THE BRIGHT SPOT

It took Lacazette just 94 seconds to score in the Premier League with his second touch in England’s top-flight. The first was a kick off.

The 26-year-old Frenchman averaged a goal every 80 minutes during his Ligue 1 career with Lyon and he’s started in fine style.

Lacazette’s goalscoring ability is one thing, but his ability to link up with Arsenal’s other attackers inside the box is an added bonus. You do not get that from most poachers.

He is a menace in the box and was involved in both Welbeck’s goal to make it 2-2 and his incredible trickery and powerful shot forced Kasper Schmeichel into a fine stop which led to the corner for Giroud to score the winner.

For most of his career Lacazette is a man who has been in the right place at the right time and it seems he will carry on that trend at Arsenal.

 

PL Sunday preview: Wayward Watford welcome woeful West Ham

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In a reversal of roles, based on preseason projections at least, Watford welcome West Ham United to Vicarage Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for a clash of mid-table climbers and relegation fighters, respectively.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man Utd, Chelsea win big… so do Man City ]

Watford began the 2017-18 Premier League season in fine form, winning four of their first eight games and losing just one (to runaway leaders Manchester City, no less). In their last three games, however, the Hornets have conceded eight goals, while scoring just four themselves, and winning zero points. Coincidentally — nor not, perhaps — that three-game slide began at the same time Watford manager Marco Silva‘s name was linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton. With Ronald Koeman fired almost four weeks ago now, Watford have rejected approach after approach from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Silva, for his first three months of efforts, has been roundly praised by the club’s supporters and players alike.

“Everybody could see he changed a lot of things in the team. We had quite a lot of the same players but we improved a lot,” defender Christian Kabasele said this week. “When you have somebody like this and other teams are looking for him it’s important that Watford try to do everything possible to keep him.”

West Ham, meanwhile, started the season poorly and have remained equally so in recent weeks. Slaven Bilic was subsequently fired two weeks and succeeded by David Moyes, who had been out of a job since guiding Sunderland to relegation at the end of last season. Sunday’s bout with Watford will see Moyes make his debut for West Ham, the fourth club to employ him since leaving Everton four and a half years ago. To make matters more difficult, the Hammers’ leading scorer, Javier Hernandez (4 goals), won’t be available after picking up an injury on international duty.

“It’s a clean slate for the entire squad,” Moyes said last week. “They’ve all worked very hard this week and responded in a positive manner to everything we’ve asked of them. It will obviously take time for the players to fully understand our style and methods but the initial signs are very encouraging — they’ve bought in what we are trying to do and that’s a good base for us to build on.”

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Isaac Success (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastian Prodl (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring) | West Ham — OUT: Javier Hernandez (hamstring), James Collins (ankle), Sam Byram (thigh), Jose Fonte (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Michail Antonio (ribs)

The 2 Robbies: North London Painted Red

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In today’s pod, the Robbies heap praise on Arsenal’s impressive performance in the North London Derby (00:30), analyze Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle on the back of Paul Pogba’s return (10:00), ask if this Man City side is the best Premier League side ever (18:25), debate where Kevin De Bruyne’s current form ranks in the league’s greatest ever players (23:45) and pick the best summer signing so far this season (27:15; hint, hint – he might be leading the league in scoring).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Draw in Madrid derby puts Barca 10 clear of capital rivals

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw in their first derby at the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday, leaving both teams further away from Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Barcelona won at Leganes 3-0 earlier and ended the day 10 points in front of both Madrid clubs after 12 matches. The thriving Catalan club is seven points in front of second-place Valencia, which will try to extend its seven-game winning streak at Espanyol on Sunday.

The draw extended Atletico’s winless run at its new home to five matches. It drew three straight entering this weekend. Diego Simeone’s team has won only two of its last 10 games in all competitions.

Both teams will have to remain nearly perfect for the rest of the season to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has won 11 of its 12 league matches.

It was a tense between Real and Atletico from the start, with hard fouls from both sides.

Real had control for most of the game but was not able to create many significant chances.

Atletico had one of its best opportunities early when forward Angel Correa entered the area free from markers with only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to beat but sent his shot wide.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro also came close in the second half, but his shot over Casilla was cleared by Real defender Raphael Varane in front of the goal-line.

Real threatened with a few runs by Isco and a couple of free kicks taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was another tough night for Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo has scored six times in the Champions league but only once in La Liga, while Griezmann has only three goals in 14 matches with Atletico in all competitions. The France forward was jeered when he was replaced by Fernando Torres near the end of the second half.

Luis Suarez scored twice to end a five-match scoring drought in Barcelona’s win.

The Uruguay striker found the net in each half and substitute midfielder Paulinho scored late to give the Catalan club its 11th win.

Leganes, ninth in the standings, had its chances early in southern Madrid but couldn’t beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 28th after Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar dropped the ball in front of the goal after a cross by Paco Alcacer. Suarez’s second in the 60th was a rebound shot after Cuellar parried a shot by Lionel Messi. Suarez hadn’t scored in more than a month.

“What mattered to me was that I was feeling good and was helping the team, and today the goals helped us get the three points against a difficult rival,” Suarez said. “We always try to play better, but it’s not always possible.”

Paulinho sealed the victory in the 90th after a pass by Messi, who was on the ground fighting for the ball when he tipped it back to the midfielder.

Leganes, playing only in its second season in the first division, wore a specially designed purple shirt to promote the fight against gender violence.

“We had our opportunities, but in the end we knew that we were playing against the best team in the world, and with very little they can score on you,” Leganes midfielder Ruben Perez said.

Sevilla recovered from its loss to Barcelona in the previous round by beating Celta Vigo 2-1 to move back to fifth place.

Celta got on the board first through Maxi Gomez, but the hosts rallied with goals by Luis Muriel in the first half and Nolito in the second.

It was the fourth win in five matches for Sevilla in all competitions.

Markel Bergara and Jorge Molina scored in the first 10 minutes to lead Getafe to a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves at home.

It was the 10th league loss for Alaves, which remains in 18th place. Getafe is 10th.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” Alaves coach Gianni De Biasi said.

Bundesliga: Bayern running away (again) after slow start

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice to help Bayern Munich stretch its lead in the Bundesliga to six points with a 3-0 defeat of Bavarian rival Augsburg on Saturday.

It was the 500th league win for Jupp Heynckes as a player or coach and extends the 72-year-old’s winning start to eight games across all competitions since he returned for his fourth stint.

“That’s a surprise for me. I don’t bother with statistics and numbers,” Heynckes said on being told about his winning landmark. “But it’s an impressive number (500). I had a long career as a player, and now as a coach. It wasn’t planned.”

Heynckes was coaxed out of retirement to take over from the fired Carlo Ancelotti on Oct. 5. Bayern was trailing then-leader Borussia Dortmund by five points at the time. Now the side is nine points ahead of Dortmund, which hasn’t won in the league since Sept. 30, and six ahead of Leipzig, held to a draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock after half an hour, swiveling to fire home the rebound from a difficult angle after Mats Hummels’s effort was blocked and the ball ricocheted off Niklas Suele.

Vidal turned provider seven minutes later, playing Lewandowski through on a counterattack to shoot past Marwin Hitz.

The Poland striker claimed his league-leading 13th goal of the season early in the second half with a perfectly struck volley to Joshua Kimmich’s precise long cross from the right.

Vidal headed against the crossbar just afterward before Bayern conserved energy for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Anderlecht.

The win stretched the side’s unbeaten record to 28 games at home.

Winless Cologne’s terrible start to the league continued with its 10th defeat in 12 games, while the discussion over video assistance in the league will continue after two mistakes by referee Felix Brych.

Daniel Brosinski’s penalty before the break was enough for a 1-0 win for Mainz against Cologne, but how it came about will ensure the controversy over video assistance goes on.

Brych pointed to the spot when Pablo De Blasis fell under Frederik Sorensen’s challenge. He then consulted the video assistant, who had the benefit of studying replays in Cologne, and stood by the decision – despite television showing that Sorensen made hardly any contact with the Mainz player.

Brych later sent off Mainz’s Giulio Donati for what he perceived as striking Leon Bittencourt after a tussle between the two. However, Bittencourt’s foot struck Donati in the face beforehand. Donati, who was lying on the pitch clutching his face, brushed the Cologne player away when he went to lift him up.

Following controversial decisions in previous games, the German soccer federation said video assistants were only to step in when there was “a clear wrong decision.”

Ten-man Leverkusen came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against second-place Leipzig.

Timo Werner’s early penalty put the visitors in front before Leon Bailey equalized before the break.

The home side’s hopes took a blow when Benjamin Henrichs was sent off for handball on the line and Emil Forsberg scored the resulting penalty, but Kevin Volland equalized again with a quarter-hour remaining.

Wolfsburg defeated Freiburg 3-1 at home to give coach Martin Schmidt his first win after he started with seven draws.

On loan from Bayern, Serge Gnabry did brilliantly to set up Mark Uth for Hoffenheim’s injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with visiting Eintracht Frankfurt.