Arsenal 4 Leicester 3
If this is what the Premier League is going to be like in 2017-18 then strap yourselves in, put on a hard had and prepare for thrills, spills and goals galore; it’s going to be quite some ride — especially if you are an Arsenal fan.
The opening game of the new campaign, played in front of a packed crowd at the Emirates and in front of television screens in 189 countries across the world, provided seven goals, non-stop entertainment and a reminder why Arsenal can still play a part in the forthcoming title race.
It ended 4-3 to Arsene Wenger’s side, coming from 2-1 and 3-2 down to create a frantic and heady atmosphere at a ground which has often been deathly quiet in the past. So when substitute Olivier Giroud headed the winner after 85 minutes the game went down in the pantheon of Premier League nights to remember.
Highlights included a goal after only 94 seconds for Arsenal’s record signing Alexandre Lacazette, two goals from Jamie Vardy, end-to-end action and kamikaze defending from the home side who ditched their three-at-the-back system in the second half after Leicester tore it apart.
Then, to cap it all off, there were two late goals from substitutes Aaron Ramsey and Giroud to leave Arsenal fans heady and dizzy with excitement.
“We kept the faith and kept believing in our game to push hard,” Giroud said. “We’ve been courageous to the end and thank God we won the game.”
It’s tempting to remind those fans that Mesut Ozil handled in the build up to the equalieser and that the defensive half of Arsenal’s performance was woeful.
But the other half was so enthralling, so exciting that it’s only fair to leave that debate to anther time and just enjoy the occasion.
This result was crucial for Arsene Wenger because more than almost anyone in the Premier League, he needed a victory on the opening day to set out his stall for the season. Three points to forget about all the negativity and controversy which dogged the club last year before the Frenchman finally defied his critics by signing a new contract.
The problem is Arsenal’s opening-day performances in recent years have been pretty miserable, setting the tone for what was to follow. Last year they lost 4-3 to Liverpool at the Emirates in a match in which they were 1-0 up early on, the year before was even worse as they lost 2-0 to West Ham — and in 2013-14 they famously collapsed to lose against Aston Vill 3-1 from 1-0 up, with Christian Benteke doing the damage.
So when Lacazette scored after only 94 seconds of his Premier League debut, expertly heading down a cross from Mohamed Elneny, you always though the celebrations which rocked around the Emirates were a little to early.
It was, nevertheless, a very special moment for Arsenal’s record signing — and his understated celebration, arms outstretched and head nodding at the crowd as if to say ‘yup, that’s what I do’, will be remembered no doubt for many years to come.
Arsenal’s nervous defence soon let Leicester back in it, however. They had already been at sixes and sevens by the time Harry Maguire headed a cross from a quickly-taken short corner (there were three other unmarked Leicester players ready to do the same) for Okazaki (the smallest man on the pitch) to head an equaliser after only five minutes.
It was a makeshift three-man defence which took the hit, because with Per Mertesacker injured and Laurent Koscielny suspended Arsenal fielded new signing Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding at the back — although a lack of help from those in front of them also played a major part in encouraging Leicester to take advantage.
Time and time again Leicester found space out wide on the left — and their crosses found men unmarked in the middle — so it was no major surprise when they took the lead after 28 minutes, against the run of play but nevertheless in keeping with the style of the game.
It was self-destructive from Arsenal, too, giving the ball away in defence before Marc Albrighton whipped in a low cross which was expertly turned home by Vardy.
But it was never going to be the last goal of the game given the end to end nature of the occasion; and the home side were level on the stroke of half time, Welbeck tucking home after a simple short pass from Kolasinac.
This, of course, would have been the perfect time for someone in the Arsenal team to put their foot on the ball, to slow things down and dominate the second half. Instead, the high octane, frantic pace continued and Leicester went 3-2 ahead with the simplest of goals — a Mahrez corner followed by a Vardy header against a static defence.
No wonder Wenger opted to switch to a 4-3-3 formation later in the game, taking off Rob Holding who endured a miserable evening, and calling on Ramsey and Giroud to turn the game around.
Ramsey responded, drilling home an excellent finish before Lacazette was denied by Kasper Schmeichel. And then came Giroud, the man many are tipping to leave the Emirates in the transfer window, rising expertly to bullet a header over the line and set the Emirates alight.
He has to stay, of course and the Frenchman knows how important this result was to everyone at Arsenal.
“We really needed this win, the first game is very important for the team and I’m so pleased,” he said.
Welcome back, Premier League, this is what we’ve been missing…
ARSENAL: Cech 7; Kolasinac 7, Monreal 6, Holding 5 (Giroud 67; 7); Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Xhaka 7, Elneny 6 (Ramsey 67), Bellerin 6; Ozil 5, Lacazette 7, Welbeck 8 (Walcot 75; 6)
Subs not used: Ospina, Mustafi, Coquelin, Iwobi.; 7
LEICESTER CITY: Schmeichel 7; Fuchs 7, Maguire 7, Morgan 6, Simpson 7; Albrighton 7 (Gray 88), Ndidi 6, James 6 (Iheanacho 82; 5), Mahrez 6; Vardy 8, Okazaki 7 (Amertey 72; 5).
Subs not used: Hamer, Chilwell, King, Gray, Slimani.
Referee: Mike Dean
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