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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Arsenal triumph over Leicester in season-opener thriller

The Gunners went behind twice before two late goals in three minutes gave them a opening night victory over the 2016 champions

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates as referee Mike Dean, centre, says the ball has crossed the line for a goal during their English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates stadium
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud celebrates as referee Mike Dean, centre, says the ball has crossed the line for a goal during their English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates stadium

Arsenal 4 Leicester 3. 189 countries across the globe tuned into the season opening fixture of the 2017-18 Premier League, and they were treated to an absolute humdinger of the game, where the lead changed three times, Jamie Vardy bagged a brace and the nerves of home manager were stretched to breaking point.

The Gunners went into this tie knowing that their difficult opening start to the season – they have away games against Stoke, Liverpool and Chelsea to start the season – demanded that they win against a Leicester side that had spent heavily over the summer, with striker Kelechi Iheanacho coming in from Manchester City for a reported fee of £25m.

But it was Arsenal’s debutant Alexandre Lacazette, who came from Lyon for around £46m in the off season, who made the immediate impact, heading home on the inside post at close range from a dinked cross after just 94 seconds to set a new Premier League record for the quickest opening day goal.

However, within three minutes Leicester had equalised through Shinji Okazaki, who defied his marker in the Arsenal box to head in himself, with Petr Cech way out of position. Okazaki only scored once in 25 appearances for the Foxes during their troubled 2016-17 season, on the final day.

Arsenal continued to press but always looked susceptible on the break, and so it proved, when they were dispossessed in the Leicester half and the ball was quickly played up the wing before an excellent cross presented one-time Gunners target Jamie Vardy with a perfect opportunity to tap in his first goal of what could be many this season.

Leicester held off a series of Arsenal attacks as the half wound down, and almost took a two goal lead as another cross from a free kick caused chaos in the home box. But just on the stroke of half time, Arsenal managed to thread the ball through a crowded penalty box for Danny Welbeck to stab home.

Leicester’s players complained the move was offside, but their decision to stop playing meant the former Manchester United man, whose time at the Emirates has been disrupted by injury, was unmarked when the ball finally fell to him in the final seconds of the half.

Within ten minutes of the restart, Leicester took the lead again; again through Vardy who headed home firmly from a corner where no Arsenal player attacked the ball. The away side shut up shop at this point, and for the next 25 minutes the home side met a thick blue line every time they tried to get into the box.

But with just eight minutes of regulation time left, Arsenal had a corner which came out of the penalty box and was floated back in to the path of Aaron Ramsay. The Welsh international took one touch before putting an exquisite shot across Kasper Schmeichel. And within three minutes, the home side took the lead again.

Another corner, this time straight to the head of substitute Olivier Giroud, who powered home a typical centre forward’s effort which hit the bar and touched down well behind the line, despite initial confusion as to whether it would count. It was the Frenchman’s 26th headed goal since he signed for Arsenal in June 2012, a Premier League record.

The result represents a welcome reversal of last season’s 4-3 home defeat by Liverpool last season although the mercurial nature of the home crowd was on show on Friday night as grumblings began while the home side were behind. Leicester will be happy enough to see that they appear to have the goals in them this season, they just need to tighten up their back line against set pieces.

And the Premier League’s chief executives will be pinching themselves that a global audience in the tens of millions will have seen English football at its fire and brimstone best.