Monday, 14 August 2017

Crazy opening night

Arsenal 4-3 Leicester

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Arsenal and Leicester opened the Premier League season with a truly mesmerising game full of excitement and drama throughout. If this is an indication of what the league season has in store then fans all over the World will not be disappointed.

Arsene Wenger decided to start both of his summer signings, Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac as Arsenal were forced to field a makeshift defence in the opening game of the season for the second successive year. With Nacho Monreal deployed as the central defender of a back three and Kolasinac and Holding either side of him, it was clear that the Gunners would be defensively vulnerable at times and needed their attacking players to perform at their best to relieve some of the pressure on them.
In this respect, Arsenal couldn’t have started the game any better. Lacazette has been heralded as the goal machine that Wenger’s sides have lacked for so long but there are still reservations about his ability to transfer his undoubted proficiency in front of goal from Ligue 1 to the Premier League. However former Lyon striker wasted little time in allaying those fears, taking only 90 seconds to open his account in a red and white shirt as he steered home Elneny’s ball into the box with an exquisite header towards the bottom corner of the net. The manner of the goal would also have pleased many an Arsenal fan as it showed a real striker’s instinct to quickly react to the ball and steer it towards goal.
Lacazette’s performance was not only impressive due to his early goal, but also for his work off the ball. The Frenchman showed himself to be a tireless runner, chasing and harrying the man in possession whenever Leicester’s defenders had the ball, in similar fashion to Alexis Sanchez. Lacazette’s movement off the ball was also to be admired as he constantly looked to make runs in behind the Leicester defence and to find space. Unfortunately the understanding between the midfield and the new Arsenal striker is not quite there yet and so on a number of occasions the ball wasn’t fed through to Lacazette but once that understanding is there, Arsenal will be a formidable force going forward. The game also allowed the new Arsenal striker to show his versatility as he was deployed on the right hand side of the front three as the Gunners chased the game in the second half and showed an impressive turn of pace, crossing ability and neat touches in and around the box so indicate that he will be a valuable addition to this Arsenal side.
Unfortunately having taken the lead so early in the game, Arsenal were not able to hold onto it for long and were soon pegged back due to poor defending. A short corner from Leicester caught the Gunners out with the visitors enjoying a 2 vs 1 situation enabling them to manoeuvre the ball into a better crossing position before delivering a ball towards the back post. Petr Cech should have come out to claim the cross, but nevertheless Arsenal’s players were all at sea as they allowed two Leicester attackers to be completely unmarked at the back post. Harry Maguire nodded the ball back across goal and Shingi Okasaki, the smallest player on the pitch, was allowed to out jump Xhaka to head the ball into the empty net.
Worse was yet to come for Arsenal as the makeshift defence began to creak. Rob Holding endured a difficult night as he struggled to come to terms with Leicester’s pace on the left wing and was afforded little or no help from Hector Bellerin. Leicester took the lead by exploiting this weakness with Marc Albrighton surging through before delivering a low ball across goal for Jamie Vardy to poke home. Vardy had been left unmarked in the box but had Cech been more alive to the situation he would have been able to come off his line and claim the cross.
Arsenal did manage to restore parity just before half-time as the impressive Kolasinac was able to collect the ball inside the box and kept a cool head when faced with Kaspar Schmeichel, to lay the ball to Danny Welbeck, for the Englishman to prod the ball into the net.
Kolasinac appears to be built for the Premier League, with his strong and stocky build allowing him to endure the physicality of the league with ease. The Bosnian turned in an impressive performance in the Community Shield and followed that up with an excellent performance against Leicester too as he embarked on a number of marauding runs, brushing off challenges and turning himself into an instant fans’ favourite. He does appear to be a little too rash in the tackle at times but if Wenger can coach him to be more patient in this aspect of his game, then Arsenal will have secured one of the signings of the summer.
The Gunners were to fall behind once again following the half time break as yet more woeful defending allowed Jamie Vardy to be completely unmarked as Arsenal defended from a corner. The Englishman’s deft header saw the ball sail into the corner of the net with Arsenal electing to defend corners without anyone on the line. Had there been an Arsenal man on the line it would have been a simple clearance for him but instead the home side were now 3-2 down.
Finding his side in such a predicament it was somewhat refreshing to see Arsene Wenger actually make changes to the system rather than just replacing like for like as he has done so often in recent seasons. The decision to bring on Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey in place of Elneny and Holding was inspired. Arsenal switched to a back four, albeit and unconventional back four, with Oxlade-Chamberlain at right back, Monreal and Kolasinac at centre back and Bellerin at left back, but with Giroud up front and Lacazette on the right, Arsenal were suddenly dominating the game. The change in system brought Ozil to life as the German began to find space that he had previously been denied and began to pull the strings to orchestrate an Arsenal come back.
Much has been made of Ozil’s contract situation at Arsenal but if his second half display is anything to go by then his commitment to the club cannot be questioned. Having endured a poor first half Ozil refused to give in and grew in stature during the second period, taking the game by the scruff of the neck. It was his cross which caused initial panic in the Leicester defence, enabling Ramsey to find space in the box and steer home Xhaka’s excellent delivery, with an exquisite finish to make the score 3-3.
Then with minutes left, Olivier Giroud proved his importance to this Arsenal side, meeting Xhaka’s corner delivery with a powerful header which crashed off the underside of the crossbar and over the line to give the Gunners a hard fought victory. Giroud provides Arsenal with a completely different option from the bench and can therefore help to change the game in the Gunners’ favour. When at his best, the Frenchman’s hold up play is excellent and his heading ability is also particularly strong at times. Wenger declared after the game that Giroud would definitely be staying at the club a move which bodes well for the season ahead.
Although only the first game of the new season, this was a crucial victory for Arsenal. Had they lost the doom mongers would have been out in force once again but now they have a platform from which to build. They showed great character in coming back to win the game and impressive qualities going forward at times. The defence did look extremely vulnerable but the fact that this was far from Arsenal’s first choice back three should instil some confidence. With Koscielny back from suspension after the game at Stoke and Mustafi back to full fitness soon Arsenal are showing signs of having a strong squad capable of achieving more than they did last season.

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