Finally, the football season is back and no better way to kick off the EPL than with a truly ‘Arsenal’ game with undulating peaks and troughs, lots of nervy moments and goals that has culminated in a truly electric season opener.
With only one opening day win since 2011, the Gunners were itching to start on a bright note against Leicester and it was the North London team that drew first blood courtesy of a sublime header by new boy Lacazette to finish a clever cross cum pass from El Neny. It took a total of 94 seconds for Arsenal to open the scoring and in interestingly unsurprising Arsenal fashion the home side found themselves on level terms courtesy of an Okazaki equalizer 2 minutes after their opener. Vardy then slid the visitors ahead from Marc Albrighton’s cross in the 29th minute, only for Danny Welbeck to stroke level on half-time. 4 goals in the first 45 of the curtain raiser, cracking half it was, and more of the same entertainment awaited in the second half.
Vardy put the Foxes back in front from a glancing header off Mahrez’s corner as Xhaka was guilty of ball watching rather than tracking the runner. On the 67th minute Wenger made a double change, taking off El Neny and Rob Holding (who was having his worst game yet) for Ramsey and Giroud, two men who eventually ended up as super subs, getting the equalizer and winning goal respectively, in the 83rd and 85th minute. Gooners might not have totally enjoyed the entirety of the emotional roller coaster that the game proved to be for them but they would savor the opening day victory, 7 goal thriller, Arsenal get the three points.
NEW BOYS SHINE
It was a promising debut for Arsenal’s record signing Lacazette and Bosman signing Kolasinac as both of them gave very encouraging performances. Lacazette getting himself on the score-sheet, he also hustled the ball through to Kolasinac who assisted Welbeck for the equalizing goal late in the first half. He generally looked to get involved with play and made very good combinations with team mates around him. While he would still need some time to get accustomed to the physicality of the premier league he certainly wasn’t a push over either.
Kolasinac on the other hand seemed tailor made for the physical rigors, muscling a lax Mahrez on a couple occasions and bombing forward on the left inside corridor whenever opportunity presented itself. Leicester new boy Maguire also had a very good debut, providing the assist for Okazaki’s equalizer while also making an important block to deny Welbeck from a Mesut Ozil cutback.
IHEANACHO’S NIGHTMARE DEBUT
Did Leicester’s new signing have a particularly bad game? The answer is an emphatic NO, why then do I think it was a nightmare of a debut? One word, Shakespeare. The Foxes manager prepared well for this game and their performance was laudable, they consistently tried to hit Arsenal on the break and tried to exploit weaknesses in Arsenal’s makeshift back three, and they were having some success with their game plan. The manager then decides to take off Okazaki and replace him with a midfielder in Amartey, trying to tighten things in the middle of the park. The plan seemed to be working nicely until the manager chose to put in Iheanacho (a striker) for James (a midfielder), going back to a 2 man midfield. The reason for this decision is unclear and I sincerely doubt the thinking behind it was tactical, Leicester were trying to defend a one goal margin lead so bringing on a striker for a midfielder was naturally an unwise choice.
Leaving the new boy on the bench completely might have raised a few eyebrows in some quarters but a win or at least a draw is enough reason to do so, or at least take off Vardy for the new boy and maintain the 3 man midfield and try to see out the game. In the 3 minutes after Iheanacho’s introduction, Arsenal scored twice to win the game.
How is this Iheanacho’s fault? It isn’t, it’s the manager’s but Iheanacho is likely to be the one to bear the brunt. Firstly, both starting centre forwards scored 3 goals between them and more importantly Iheanacho most likely now subconsciously registers as a bad omen in the mind of the manager, and maybe other stakeholders.
ARSENAL’S MAKESHIFT BACK 3 FALTERS
Arsenal started in the rave of the moment tridente system 1-3-4-3 with a young and inexperienced Holding partnering 2 natural left backs in Kolasinac and Monreal. As a defensive unit they were exposed on a couple of occasions with Vardy continually finding pockets of space between them. While individually Monreal and Kolasinac had decent performances, Holding was unusually very poor.
Perhaps as a result of a lack of a guiding figure which he usually gets when partnering the likes of Koscielny, Mustafi or Per. As a defensive unit, their movements were uncoordinated, depth was severely lacking and communication wasn’t the best. The sooner the more natural and experienced CBs are available to play the better for the team going forward.
Overall, both teams can be happy by their performances although Leicester will feel hard done by the result, they can take the positives knowing they gave a very good game to one of the league’s top teams on their home turf. Arsenal will be delighted with the performance of their new signings and the final result.
The break is finally over and the football season is back on!
ENTRENADOR’S DIARY IS A NEW COLUMN BY PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL COACH ADEGUN SHOLA, YOU CAN INTERACT WITH HIM ON TWITTER @ADEGUN_JO