Alexandre Lacazette’s well-taken header to score on his Premier League debut after less than two minutes, and Arsenal were in dreamland. For once, they would cruise to a comfortable win on the opening weekend, surely? Wrong. Unsurprisingly.
Since the 6-1 away thrashing over Everton in 2009, Arsenal had won one of their opening fixtures in the seasons afterward – a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace in 2014.
Newcastle and Sunderland had held the Gunners to goalless draws, while Liverpool had drawn one and won 4-3 in last season’s frenetic thriller. West Ham produced a horror debut for Petr Cech the season before, mind.
So you could excuse supporters for being skeptical ahead of kick-off, against a Leicester side who underperformed under Claudio Ranieri and ultimately got their best ever manager sacked, whichever way you want to look at it.
Midfielder Mohamed Elneny, who had rejected a £10m move to Leicester earlier this summer, provided the assist for Lacazette’s well-taken finish – a header from close-range but one which he wouldn’t have been expected to score, especially given the angle and lack of time he had to set himself.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was beaten, diving helplessly to his right as the effort arrowed into the bottom corner.
Shinji Okazaki quickly silenced the home faithful though after some poor defending from a corner-kick. They took their corner quickly, Marc Albrighton’s inviting delivery was whipped towards the back post and Harry Maguire did well to stretch, flicking the ball to keep it on. Okazaki was free in space with Arsenal’s backline ball-watching. Cech was in no man’s land and the whole move seemed to go in slow motion as the Japanese international nodded home.
Granit Xhaka’s loose pass set the visitors on their way with a deadly counter-attack, one which former Arsenal target Jamie Vardy utilised to devastating effect.
Albrighton pounced on the loose ball and accelerated down the byline before spotting Vardy’s trademark run inbetween the opposing backline. The cross had to be good, this one was perfectly weighted and left the Englishman an easy finish from a few yards out.
No wonder he celebrated with so much passion! You could already see the headlines: Arsenal falter on opening night again, Wenger out? Gunners outgunned by plucky Foxes and so on.
Sead Kolasinac, influential during the Community Shield win over Chelsea, evidently had other ideas. Constantly driving forward when the chance arose, he played a big part in helping Arsenal level the scores on the stroke of half-time and teed up Danny Welbeck – he slotted home.
1-0 up, 2-1 down and just before the interval, Arsenal had equalised. Teamtalk, completely out the window.
Riyad Mahrez’s effort was flicked over the crossbar by Cech’s fingertips and from the following corner? Arsenal conceded again. Vardy wheels away to celebrate as he’s unmarked again and manages to peel away, heading home. He probably couldn’t believe his luck. Arsenal, just like they usually do, dominate against lesser sides.
Leicester started to visibly struggle with the hosts’ intensity and regularity of their attacks. So much so that Schmeichel was forced into a handful of important stops to keep his side in-front.
But with time running out and the pressure on? Arsenal managed an unlikely recovery.
For their defensive weaknesses, the Gunners sure know how to excite – whether that be their own supporters, neutrals or opposition fans. They’re so unpredictable but Wenger’s timely double substitution saw Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud come on in the final 20 minutes or so, in search of a more direct attacking threat.
Ramsey’s touch and strike goalwards wasn’t just sweet, it was important. The creative Welshman steered his effort into the corner with aplomb, spurring the hosts on to try and snatch all three points. This was a similar situation to the Bournemouth game away last term. Only difference is, they drew that particular game 3-3.
Not this time. Up stepped Olivier Giroud, the same striker that was attracting plenty of attention after making his feelings clear about unhappiness at the situation regarding regular minutes at Arsenal. An in-swinging corner delivered by Xhaka, effortlessly shrugging off his marker before heading in a winner off the crossbar.
Now, Arsene has a welcome dilemma in attack to deal with.
His backline needs work, because an over-reliance on Laurent Koscielny is telling. It’s been like this for at least 18 months now, even with Shkodran Mustafi an unused substitute on this occasion, the way they conceded was far too easy to spark any hope of a title challenge this term. A hard-fought three points when it didn’t really need to be, as per.
However, it remains to be seen whether Wenger will dip into the transfer market for another central defender. Seven goals, drama and mixed emotions throughout. Premier League, welcome back.