Thrilling EPL start as Ar­se­nal edges Le­ices­ter

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The Premier League made a thrilling re­turn, and Ar­se­nal fi­nally had some­thing to cel­e­brate on the open­ing week­end. It took the ar­rival of Aaron Ram­sey and Olivier Giroud from the bench in the sec­ond half to turn it around against Le­ices­ter and give Ar­se­nal only its sec­ond open­ing-day vic­tory in eight sea­sons.

In the league’s first Fri­day night start, Arsene Wenger’s side was trail­ing 3-2 with seven min­utes re­main­ing but Ram­sey grabbed the equal­izer and Giroud headed in an 85th-minute win­ner. “We kept go­ing and the spirit of the team was ab­so­lutely out­stand­ing,” Wenger said. “If you look at that from a neu­tral point, for a first game it was a top qual­ity game.

“You want the Premier League to be the best league in the world and I think it has to pro­duce th­ese kind of games to pro­duce in­ter­est and qual­ity.” Even if the thrilling at­tacks were aided by such frag­ile de­fend­ing.

Ar­se­nal record-sign­ing Alexandre Lacazette launched his English league ca­reer in style by head­ing in the opener af­ter 94 sec­onds. A pre­dictable Ar­se­nal im­plo­sion followed, with Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy putting Le­ices­ter in front. Even af­ter Danny Wel­beck lev­eled on the stroke of half­time, Vardy re­stored Le­ices­ter’s lead af­ter the break. Le­ices­ter was head­ing for some­thing it didn’t even achieve in its as­ton­ish­ing 201516 ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign: a win at Ar­se­nal. “We saw it though for 83 min­utes,” Le­ices­ter man­ager Craig Shake­speare said, “and to con­cede two late set-plays in the man­ner we did is ob­vi­ously hard to take.” In­stead, Wenger avoided a third con­sec­u­tive sea­sonopen­ing loss at the start of his new two year con­tract. The French­man will be hop­ing it’s a sign of chang­ing for­tunes af­ter a sea­son when he reached his nadir. Al­though Ar­se­nal signed off in May by lift­ing the FA Cup, a fifth-place fin­ish en­sured the north London club failed to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time in two decades.

This was the per­fect lift-off for Ar­se­nal, par­tic­u­larly for Lacazette. The first touch from the 60 mil­lion eu­ros ($68 mil­lion) sign­ing was at kick­off. His sec­ond was to meet Mo­hamed El­neny’s cross with a pow­er­ful header past goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel. Lacazette, re­cruited from Lyon, sa­vored the mo­ment, open­ing his arms out wide to take in the ac­cla­ma­tion of his new home. Ar­se­nal’s de­fense, though, was still on its sum­mer break. Just 160 sec­onds af­ter Lacazette scored, Ar­se­nal goal­keeper Petr Cech was pick­ing the ball out of his net. Harry Maguire nod­ded Marc Al­brighton’s cross back into the path of Okazaki who headed Le­ices­ter level.

Be­fore com­plet­ing a half-hour of the sea­son, Ar­se­nal was trail­ing. Again, Al­brighton was the ar­chi­tect, af­forded far too much space to ram­page down the left flank be­fore cross­ing low for Vardy to turn the ball into the net.

How quickly op­ti­mism faded as Ar­se­nal’s en­dur­ing de­fen­sive flaws were ex­posed so soon. There was a life­line for Wenger be­fore half­time when Wel­beck met Sead Ko­lasinac’s cross to tap in an equal­izer.

Le­ices­ter, how­ever, was back in front 11 min­utes into the sec­ond half. Cech ini­tially tipped over Riyad Mahrez’s shot but the lat­ter turned provider from the re­sult­ing cor­ner. The de­fense failed to check Vardy ghost­ing into the penalty area and the striker was un­marked as he nod­ded in the cor­ner.

“We’re top of the league,” Le­ices­ter fans chanted for the first time since May 2016 when their club was in possession of a Premier League tro­phy that Ar­se­nal has not lifted since 2004.—AP

LONDON: Ar­se­nal’s Olivier Giroud con­trols the ball dur­ing their English Premier League match be­tween Ar­se­nal and Le­ices­ter City at the Emi­rates sta­dium on Fri­day. — AP

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