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.
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.