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After a series of new transfer records and a lot of hand-wringing over the gargantuan expenditure and breathless will-he-won’t-he-leave transfer drama, two teams of 11 men apiece nevertheless played 90+ minutes of soccer on some grass Friday night, opening the new Premier League season.
Arsenal avoided a third straight home loss to open its season. It squandered an early lead but managed a late comeback against Leicester City for a topsy-turvy 4-3 win that was thrilling to neutrals and no doubt excruciating to the partisans.
For a time, it seemed like all of Arsenal’s demons were still very much alive and ready to slay the Gunners yet again. Things had looked promising for the North Londoners coming out of pre-season. They had managed to hang onto Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil — for now, at least — even though the former was injured, allegedly. They had broken the club transfer record for Olympique Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette. Sure, manager Arsene Wenger was still there, to the dismay of a great many fans, but at least he’s experienced.
And then Arsenal stumbled, face-first, out of the gate, only to scramble back up just before the finish line. Just like last season, when it lost at home 4-3 to Liverpool — although Wenger’s side then didn’t lose again until their 16th game of the season. The year before that, West Ham was victorious by a 2-0 score. Four years ago, Aston Villa beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates on opening day.
These are disconcerting trends. Just as it’s worrisome to the Gunner faithful that their side still can’t defend set pieces and makes silly defensive lapses. Arsenal can still dazzle as in its finest years — although it’s now been 13 seasons since it won the Premier League; whereas the opponents Leicester did just two seasons ago — but it’s so often wasted on the mistakes.
A zippy start by Arsenal led to a symphonic attack of through balls and crosses that culminated with Mohamed Elneny depositing a cross onto the head of Lacazette. He aimed his nod just right, beating the outstretched Kasper Schmeichel to put the home side ahead within two minutes.
But just a few minutes later, the Foxes equalized. In a variant from a corner, a long drifted cross was headed back by Harry Maguire beyond the far post and then redirected home by Shinji Okazaki.
And at the half-hour mark, Vardy got the first of his two go-ahead goals. While the Gunners had been superior for the whole game, they gave the ball away cheaply yet again. Christian Fuchs swung in a low cross that found Vardy for the close-range finish.
On the brink of halftime, Arsenal seemed to have mitigated the damage. The ball scrambled through the Leicester back line with a bit of luck. Lacazette’s shot was blocked but fell for Sead Kolasinac, who laid off for Danny Welbeck to tuck in the equalizer.
But 10 minutes into the second half, Vardy snuck between a pair of defenders and nodded in a header from a corner.
Arsenal began its assault for an equalizer. Schmeichel came up with strong saves several times. And the tide only turned when Wenger, who deserves credit here, brought on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud.
In the 83rd minute, Ramsey deadened a Granit Xhaka cross splendidly and then rifled home from inside the box.
And two minutes later, Giroud managed to get to a corner and head it in off the underside of the bar in spite of being manhandled.
If this was finally going to be the season that Arsenal put it all together, it might still be that. There are 37 league games remaining. And the Gunners somehow managed to avoid dropping points in their opener. But the fashion in which the three points were won is hardly sustainable.
Arsenal got away with a lot of mistakes and got by on the strength of its attacking might — and Lacazette was outstanding in that context. That won’t work every single matchday.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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