Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to a new season reminiscent of the old at the Emirates. Arsenal’s penchant for starting seasons by getting a wobble in early has become something of an epidemic. The storyline for another opening act at home followed a familiarly fretful and pressurised script, with Leicester leading 3-2 as the game tilted towards its conclusion. Arsenal twisted the tale with a theatrical flourish as late strikes from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud sent shudders through north London. The Frenchman ensured his compatriot Alexandre Lacazette will not easily be the big man up front in these parts.
The good news for Arsenal supporters is they broke their transfer record for a striker, but the bad news is they ended their first game of the season with a classically dysfunctional defence. It was an extraordinary combination – a midfield player at right-back, two left-backs at centre-back and a right-back at left-back. Confused? Who wouldn’t be.
A frenetic opening five minutes was a microcosm of all of Arsenal’s weird, paradoxical sense of possibility. Their ability to exude verve and be vulnerable all in the same few flashes of a game was there for all to see. Day one optimism burst down from the stands as the record signing, Lacazette, opened the scoring with his first meaningful Premier Leaguetouch. A mere two minutes into his official Arsenal career he was unmarked in the box, picked out after slick touches from Hectór Bellerín and Mohamed Elneny, and on the spot to steer a powerful header past Kasper Schmeichel.
The Emirates crowd cherished the moment. But not for long. Leicester’s response was determined and instant and exposed the old familiar defensive off-switch in Arsenal’s mechanics. Mesut Özil lost possession in a dangerous spot. Leicester loaded players into forward positions and pressed on. When Marc Albrighton floated a cross over to the far post, Harry Maguire was more alert to the situation than any Arsenal defender. He sprinted to nod the ball back to Shinji Okazaki, whose movement was sparkier than any opponent and he finished instinctively.
Having equalised it would have been rude of Leicester to turn down the opportunity to take the lead in the 28th minute. Elneny and Granit Xhaka were punished for some casual passing in midfield as Albrighton pounced to carve the kind of opening that inspired Jamie Vardy to become synonymous with so many Leicester parties. A player Arsène Wenger tried in vain to sign a year ago scored his first of the season crisply.
The goal sucked the confidence out of Arsenal, who had been building presentable opportunities of their own via a highly charged Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain run, Danny Welbeck’s shot against Maguire’s rump, and a Sead Kolasinac deflected effort.
Arsenal’s sense of enterprise lurched into anxiety. Rob Holding was robbed of the ball. Leicester zoomed into another break and Okazaki was a fraction away from heading in another. It spoke volumes of how Leicester interpreted the temperature of the game that both their centre backs, Maguire and Wes Morgan, felt compelled to amble up and frighten Arsenal’s rearguard from open play.
The makeshift defence that Wenger pieced together, without the senior influences of Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker, was jittery and easily stretched.
Arsenal implored Mike Dean for a penalty when Kolasinac’s cross hit Wilfred Ndidi on a raised arm – from close range it must be said – but the referee waved the appealers on their way. A bizarre half ended with a reprieve for the home team. After Lacazette’s shot was blocked, Leicester’s defenders raised choreographed “offside” arms while Kolasinac ambled on to poke the ball for Welbeck to prod in an equaliser. The half-time whistle was greeted by bubbling chitter-chatter about the reintroduction to the inexplicable emotional strain of Premier League chaos.
It did not ease off too much after the break. An air of panic fluttered as Vardy set off on another chase and Petr Cech revved up to come out to meet him close to the byline. No question about who was the faster man. Cech managed to get a long leg in first to boot the ball into touch and deny Vardy an open target.
Arsenal’s keeper fingertipped a shot from Riyad Mahrez over the bar but the inevitable was coming. Mahrez’s well-whipped corner was gobbled up by Vardy with a textbook glancing header. Set piece. Simple stuff for Leicester. It was the umpteenth time one of their players had moved untracked on to an aerial ball.
In contrast Arsenal tried to work their triangles. Bellerín was free in the box but Schmeichel smothered. Wenger threw on Giroud and Ramsey to try to shake it up. Ramsey went close with his first touch, steering a header narrowly wide. Özil volleyed into the side netting.
Would enough chances come? Would any be taken? It was Ramsey who came up with the goods as time ticked down. The Welshman controlled Xhaka’s dinked cross with one touch and buried his shot into the far corner with the next.
Regaining belief Arsenal went for the jugular. Lacazette danced through the pack and tested Schmeichel. The atmosphere cranked up, the expectancy crept back into play. From a corner Giroud headed majestically, off the bar and in.
Source: The Guardian (UK)