Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 4-3 Leicester City

Photo: Getty Images

We - maybe - just about deserved to win that match based on possession, shot totals, that sort of thing...not to mention two excellent substitutions from Arsene Wenger. An alternative view is that we were unbelievably, astonishingly lucky to get anything from that one, let alone all three points. As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

1. Despite the preposterous Friday kickoff for this one, both the Blind Pig and O'Hanlon's were full to capacity, and there are reports of a good crowd at Barleycorn as well. Well done all you NYC-based Gooners for showing the love on a day where, let's face it, we all should have been at work!

2. That said, I spent most of this one trying to peer in between or around the shoulders of giants (i.e. everyone taller than me, i.e. pretty much bloody everyone). Thus, I can't say I can dissect this one at the same tactical level as I normally can. Oh, and also if the air con was on at O's, it clearly wasn't equipped to take on the body heat of enough people to invade some small foreign countries.

Given all that, I couldn't work out who was playing where. Best I could figure, Sead Kolasinac was in central defense alongside Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin was out of position at left wing-back while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got a run-out on the right. My apologies if that was incorrect, but I had a nice 1970's terraces view of the proceedings.

What I can say is that I got into the pub just after kickoff, and the boys were nice enough to wait until I was settled before Kasper Schmeichel was picking the ball out of his net. Alex Lacazette apparently isn't one to opt for the fashionably-late entrance, waiting roughly 90 seconds to open his Arsenal account.

It was a peach, too. The Foxes' defense let Mohamed Elneny have too much time and space, though in fairness the Egyptian is not typically one for defense-raking passes. It turns out he has those in his locker occasionally after all, and our shiny new French striker was left alone to head it back across the keeper. Huh.

Like an absolute pillock, I thought we were in for an easy day.

3. Two minutes. Two bloody minutes. That's how long it took the visitors - and our shambles of a defense - to disavow me of that notion. Our entire XI went into screensaver mode (kids, ask your parents) as soon as our goal went in, and the next few minutes saw Leicester attack in furious waves. They won a corner, where we allowed a completely uncontested cross to the back post. Petr Cech came over to cover, but the back-post header was lost. It came back into the center, and Holding got beat to it by Shinji Okazaki. Unreal.

There are two kinds of goals that are absolute killers - ones you concede right after you score, and ones you concede right at the end or beginning of a half. We should have been well on top, and we let them right back in it. I understand that it would be charitable to call our defense "makeshift", but that was inexcusable.

4.  So, of course, we went from a blitzkreig-style lead inside of 90 seconds to stumbling around like a drunk relative who's been overserved at a wedding's open bar. We weren't completely useless around this stretch - Danny Welbeck might have scored if he didn't dally with the ball in the area, and Schmeichel again was uncomfortably reminiscent of his hell-spawned father. It was all somewhat vaguely threatening, so naturally we allowed Leicester to Leicester us on the counter, and man this shit isn't remotely cute or funny anymore.

A bad giveaway from Granit Xhaka began the move, and Marc Albrighton had the run of our right flank. I have no idea where AOC was, but it sure wasn't stopping the man from firing in a hell of a cross if we're being fair. Jamie Vardy, rat face and all, timed his run onto the end of it perfectly to fire home past Cech. I didn't catch who was slack on the back post there, but it's safe to say that none of our defenders covered themselves in glory.

5. At that point, I'll level with you, I thought we were done. I figured we'd throw a million men forward, get hit on the counter once or twice more, and then score a meaningless goal late to add some undeserved gloss to the scoreline. Well, this is why I'm a dolt who is safely not patrolling our technical area. It should be mentioned that they had a few more half-chances though, seemingly all from crosses coming in acres from our right flank. I said in our season preview here that with AOC you are sacrificing having a natural defender there, and it almost cost us today.

I'm going to do a sort of thought #5.5 here to mention that, despite our fears, Mike Dean had a pretty good game overall (full disclosure - I've used my summer break to become a referee, and I'm hoping to be fully USSF-certified by the end of the month). He does a little too much "hey look at me" showmanship for my liking, but he got most of the big stuff right.

That brings me back to the end of this thought, that being I think we should have had a penalty in the 42nd minute for intentional handling on Wilfred Ndidi. There are arguments for and against it, but I do think I'd have given it (said the complete neophyte to the long-term professional). There are three criteria for these decisions - the placement of the hand/arm, intent, and the distance between the ball and the hand/arm. That last one is probably what did for us here, as there was only a few feet in between. But, given the extremely unnatural hand placement, and the advantage he gained from it, I think you have to give it.

6. It didn't matter, as a little bit of karma came around to get us level a few seconds before halftime. Mesut Ozil didn't affect the game much today, but he did start this move with a direct pass into the center of the penalty area. I think it was Kolasinac who touched it on, breaking the offside trap. The Leicester players all stood around like slack-jawed statues (think the Easter Island Moai with some kind of motor-neuron disease), the dictionary definition of "play to the whistle". Sure enough, it was tapped out to Welbeck, who easily slid it into the net. Fantastic. I enjoyed that one more than some screamers into the top corner.

7. By the way, I've talked about most of Leicester's big names, but did you note which one I haven't? Oh, right, Riyad Mahrez, so recently linked with us. I want this guy in my club like I want a particularly horrid strain of swine flu (is that still a thing?).

All I'll say about him is that the nanosecond their season got a little tough last year, my dude disappeared without a trace. In fact, here is a previously-unseen photo from Claudio Ranieri's office upon discovering that he had gone:

8. Well, OK, he did win the corner that Vardy got his second goal from, though it was on a tame shot that Cech easily tipped over the bar. He did also take the corner too, I suppose, but the goal was more Monreal badly losing Vardy than anything else (our Spaniard then barking at everyone around him like some kind of rabid forest animal was a nice touch, but I'm on to you, my man).

Everyone in the world is freaking out about our defense - never mind that whole getting the three points thing - but my god so much of this nonsense misses the point. Like, how many minutes did our first choice XI (or at least the first choice XI minus Alexis) play together during the preseason? How are we supposed to legislate for Per Mertrsacker, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny all being out at the same time? And, don't give me this "Duuuurrrr, just buy 28 more guys" routine. Look closely at the squad lists for anyone in even the top-six, and they aren't three-or-four-deep anywhere. My god. Behave, you lot.

9. Schmeichel, to give the devil his due, did his best to keep them in it. He made a string of top-class saves, and as the minutes went by it was looking less and less likely that we'd find a way past him for a third time.

We threw the dice with the subs, first withdrawing Elneny and Holding for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. Later, Theo Walcott came on for Welbeck. We kept knocking on the door, but until the last 5-6 minutes, I didn't think we had a chance at so much as a point.

The funny thing is, by the 75th minute or so, I usually have a rough outline (or at least a general group of thoughts) that I'm going to use for these things. Every so often, I have to take a tactical nuke to it thanks to the events of the last few minutes of the match...I'll tell you, that's a much better prospect on a day like today than when the shoe's on the other foot.

10. Said tactical nuke came in the form of two goals in about three minutes, an odd sort of bookend to the rocket-fueled start to the match. First, a corner was cleared only as far as Xhaka on the edge of the penalty area. Our Swiss dynamo didn't seem to have a good game overall as far as I could tell, but his clipped diagonal ball to the onrushing Ramsey was sumptuous. The Welshman made no mistake, smashing in with such authority that Schmeichel never moved. Glorious.

Lacazette could have won it when given a presentable chance in the penalty area, but Schmeichel's save only delayed the inevitable. Direct from that that corner, Giroud fought off three blue-shirted statues to guide a brilliant header past the keeper and in. O'Hanlon's went beserk. You don't normally expect the beer-shower treatment for a season opener, but ours have been so rotten the last few years that it seems oddly appropriate today.

Sidebar: Don't listen to the nonsense about Ozil handling in the run-up to the third goal. His arm was stock-still against his body, and I'm not certain he was even looking in that direction when the ball hit him. It thus fails the intent AND the unnatural position criteria.

Anyway, we almost had a bit of history repeat when, for some reason, their keeper came all the way out of his goal to clear a long ball. We took the throw-in quickly, but couldn't find the unguarded net. Shame. At least the kid got off easier than his old man did, during our Double-winning year of 1997/98 no less. Again, I'll let the late lamented Red Geezer illuminate us via the Internet Wayback Machine:

Thanks to that, Raimond van der Gouw, a keeper who played so seldom even Stuart Taylor felt sorry for him, had to man the nets for them during their run-in. We all know how that ended up. Ahhh, memories.

Right, so in the same manner that I was going to say not to read too much into this loss when I thought that's how this was going to go, I'd say not to read too much into this win, either. We're not always going to hammer four past an in-form keeper, and our defense is not always going to be this shoddy. Again, a makeshift partnership, guys out of position, etc. I don't think we're going to infind ourselves in this kind of position too often this season.

At the end of the day, we gutted out three points in less than ideal conditions. Let's take a deep breath and see where we are after Stoke and Chavs away. We come away from that with 7 or so, and I'll be one happy bunny.

Man of the Match: By all rights it probably should be Vardy, but screw it, we'll give it to the new man, Alexandre Lacazette. 

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City

Emirates Stadium, London
Friday, August 11
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Leicester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 64 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Leicester City's League Form: L-W-W-L-L-D
Here we go. Season opener on a Friday, just like back in the good old days! I mean, no, wait a minute... Well, here we go anyway. Another year of this.

I'm not really going to wax poetic about fresh starts or any of that nonsense. These fixtures count the same as the ones in February and March. To that end, Arsenal have won just one of their last seven season opening fixtures and they needed an 89th minute red card to Jason Puncheon to steal that one. They've lost two straight opening day games since that win, both of which were at home. Starting on the right foot has not been Arsenal's forte.

You could point to Arsenal's opening day loss to Liverpool last year as a direct cause of their fifth place finish because, hey, if they get a 4-4 draw there, they end up in fourth. I'd argue that the 37 games to follow would have played out differently if you come into them with different points totals, but the fact of the matter is, Arsenal consistently don't do enough business in the summer to get them ready for the campaign and it has hurt.

But, here we are with two new players and nobody of consequence out (yet.) Maybe the tables have finally turned? While I think it'd be a major stretch to call Arsenal title contenders, maybe we'll at least have something new to cheer about this year. It's just been so stagnant lately.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (abdominal,) Gabriel (knee,) Wilshere (leg,) Cazorla (ankle)
Doubts: Mertesacker (head,) Özil (ankle,) Ramsey (calf,) Coquelin (ankle)
Suspended: Koscielny (second of three, serious foul play)

In the opening match of the 2011/12 season, Arsenal traveled to Newcastle and drew 0-0 (you may remember Joey Barton got two Arsenal players suspended that day.) The reason I bring that day up is because it was the start of the season while transfer speculation swirled around the future of Cesc Fàbregas. I went back to my match preview and found it was suspiciously silent on both he and Samir Nasri. Neither of them played that day; Cesc was sold two days later and Nasri fucked off to City 11 days later.

So you can see why there's some suspicion over Alexis Sánchez's abdominal injury. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. However, David Ornstein of the BBC, whose word is as close to God's among journalists who cover the club, has gone on BBC 5 to insist that Alexis's injury is genuine. So, that's the state of things.

Alexis will miss this match and next week's trip to Stoke, as will Laurent Koscielny, who will serve the rest of his suspension for the red card he received against Everton at the end of last season. Gabriel, who injured his knee that day, remains out, as do Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.

There are a lot of doubts in the Arsenal squad, but Per Mertesacker (head gashy thing,) Mesut Özil (fluid in his ankle,) Aaron Ramsey (calf,) and Francis Coquelin (ankle) were all in full training on Thursday. Coquelin is not expected to be available, but the BFG's availability means the club won't have to rush medium-sized German Shkodran Mustafi back into the fold.

Predicted XI: Čech, Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Welbeck, Lacazette.

Leicester City Squad News

Out: Huth (ankle,) Iborra (ankle)
Doubts: Drinkwater (thigh,) Iheanacho (foot,) Slimani (match fitness)

Center back Robert Huth, who scored the only goal for either club in the two meetings between them last season (into his own net,) is out after ankle surgery; he is back in full training and is expected to appear for the Under-23s on Monday. Harry Maguire, signed this summer from Hull City, is expected to deputize. Midfielder and summer signing Vicente Iborra picked up an ankle injury in training and is expected to miss out, too.

There are doubts over Danny Drinkwater, who missed Leicester's final preseason fixture against Borussia Mönchengladbach with a thigh problem, as well as the recently signed Kelechi Iheanacho, who picked up a foot injury in that match himself. Islam Slimani is short of match fitness.

Riyad Mahrez and Damarai Gray have both been connected to transfers out of the club, but they're both still with the squad for now.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez, Gray, Ndidi, Amartey, Okazaki, Vardy.

Last Season in Review

Arsenal's run of 20 seasons qualifying for the Champions League came to a halt last season as the club finished 5th in the Premier League, this in spite of the fact that the club finished with more points last season than in 10 of the 20 years they did qualify. It was a lot of same old, same old with Arsenal's season. They lost in the fifth round of the League Cup. They won their Champions League group, drew Bayern Munich anyway, and shipped 10 goals in the Round of 16. They won the FA Cup. They finished with 75 points in the league. Aside from the fact that they finished 5th, you could pretty much describe any number of the past seasons in similar terms. It's just so predictable, maybe the writers' room of this god-forsaken sitcom should be replaced with fresher blood. Perhaps that fresher blood will come in the form of the Europa League.

Leicester City, of course, came into last season as the reigning champions, and while they had a bit of fun in Europe en route to the Champions League quarterfinals, their domestic campaign saw them finish 12th. The Foxes won just five of their first 25 league matches before Claudio Ranieri was sacked, then won five on the bounce to climb out of relegation danger. And while they only won two of the remaining eight that followed that streak, the club were safe by 10 points.

Match Facts

Leicester have not beaten Arsenal in their last 23 tries, dating back to a 2-1 win on November 23, 1994. The Foxes did, however, advance past Arsenal via a penalty shootout in the 2000 FA Cup fourth round, after consecutive 0-0 draws.

Arsenal took four of a possible six points against the defending champions last season. In the first meeting at the King Power Stadium, played in the second week of the season, the clubs played a 0-0 draw. Mark Clattenburg denied Leicester two possible penalties, including one in second half injury time. This corresponding fixture last season also looked like it was going to be a 0-0 draw, but an 86th minute Robert Huth own goal saw Arsenal come out 1-0 winners in an incredibly sloppy game.

Leicester City have not won at Arsenal since a 2-0 win on September 8, 1973.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, unfortunately. Arsenal have seen Dean four times since his adventures with Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge on September 19, 2015. The first three of those matches were scoreless draws: 0-0 against Hull in the FA Cup, 0-0 at Sunderland, and 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough last year. The hex was finally broken with a trip to Stoke last year and a 4-1 victory on May 13.

I want that to sink in a little bit: Arsenal went to Stoke and won by three clear goals with Mike Dean. Like, I kind of don't believe that happened. I'm pretty sure Peter Crouch scored with his hand, though.

Leicester City saw Dean five times last year, lost the first three (2-1 to Hull, 4-1 to Manchester United, and 1-0 to Burnley,) then beat Hull 1-0 at the King Power and drew Crystal Palace 2-2 at Selhurst Park (which is better than, let's say, Arsenal's result there, which had been a week earlier.)

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Watford v. Liverpool; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Burnley; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield Town; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Swansea City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Bournemouth; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Brighton & Hove Albion v. Manchester City; American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
  • Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and your favorite fictional character. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for a stirring narrative arc.