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Arsenal, Leicester make excellent case for Friday night football

Saturday 12th August 2017
When the Premier League season opens with a seven-goal thriller, even purists must find it difficult to argue against Friday night football.

Some people don't like change. Everything in its place. And time. They believe you can get too much of a good thing. Close-minded as they are, such people, along with Leicester City faithful, were displeased with the raucous melee that took place at the Emirates last night.

Arsenal opened the scoring early. Leicester struck back for two. With ample added time, however, the Gunners found an equaliser before intermission. The second half began more slowly. Then Leicester struck again. With Arsene Wenger glowering as though the world was caving in on him, his side stormed back in the final ten minutes. Virtually everything that can happen in a match, even a bit of controversy, occurred.

Purists be damned, if the 2017-18 Premier League season lasted only 24 hours, I'd be completely satisfied. And I'm saying that as a Manchester United supporter.
Had Alexandre Lacazette's opener in the third minute been the match's only goal, it would have been a duller affair, to be certain. Yet, pundits would have reams to write about. The diminutive Frenchman quickly answered critics who wondered whether he was ready for the Premier League. Of the two big centre forward signings, one per side, he alone started. The Ligue 1 sensation wasted no time, slipping between two men to head home a cross from the top of the box.

Arsenal continued to dominate even though Shinji Okazaki leveled the match when it was barely five minutes old. Thriving in the three-centre-back formation stolen from and turned against Antonio Conte in the FA Cup, the Gunners easily looked like regaining the lead. Leicester absorbed the pressure, though, then found ways to exploit Arsenal's poor man marking, blatantly evident during Okazaki's goal but also on set pieces, and  in its trouble clearing the lines.

A poor pass snuffed a Gunners counterattack, immediately transforming into one for the Foxes. Marc Albrighton blazed down the left, then lashed in a perfect cross. Jamie Vardy casually skipped between two centre-halves to poke the ball beyond Petr Cech. Talk from NBC's broadcast team quickly switched to Wenger's admission his protracted contract silence last season had hurt the team. Had he irrevocably lost the group? Cameras repeatedly panned up to Alexis Sanchez in the stands, recovering from an "abdominal injury," the quotation marks easily heard in analyst Kyle Martino's doubting tone.

On 47 minutes, Danny Welbeck managed to free a Sead Kolasinac pass from under his feet to beat Kasper Schmeichel. The pair had both beaten the slow Leicester defenders' off-side trap to catch a deflected Lacazette shot. Inexplicably, the match was level.
Vardy made his brace 11 minutes into the second, heading in unmarked from the near post on a corner. With Leicester up 3-2, cameras again began stealing glances in Wenger's direction. For the next twenty-five minutes, his inability to sign the England international was mooted, along with the utter uselessness of zonal marking.

"It's one thing to play in a zone," Martino said, "but if you don't pick up the man who runs into yours, you might as well be a traffic cone." At least, I'm fairly certain that's what he said. It was difficult to hear over the Gooners cursing in the seats behind him.

With a quarter hour to go, Wenger had used all his substitutes. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey had come on seven minutes after the hour. Welbeck gave way to Theo Walcott on 75 minutes.

Eight more minutes of Wenger bashing followed before the Gunners worked some set piece magic of their own. Mesut Ozil's corner deflected out to Granit Xhaka. The Swiss promptly found Ramsey on the far side of the box. One touch from the Welshman laid the ball into his path for a drive past Schmeichel.

Two minutes later, Xhaka delivered a corner from the opposite side. It found Giroud, the Frenchman heading home off the crossbar.
The Premier League feed kept showing a route one ball from just before Ramsey's goal. Meant for Ozil, it struck his arm as he twisted to take it with his foot. Although his arm moved towards the ball, it didn't appear intentional. The call, assuming Mike Dean saw the contact, could have gone either way.

In any event, the #Wengerout narrative suddenly did a 360 into Arsenal's title hopes. Giroud will be key, it was agreed. Several teams want him. True enough. I seem to remember writing something last season about United being well-advised to bring him to Old Trafford. Martino wondered whether the target man was happy in an impact sub's role? He certainly was last night.

So was Wenger.

So were Arsenal supporters who spent the final five minutes of regular time and an additional five afterwards, loudly serenading the Frenchman. By the way, it's for moments like this I recommend streaming games on your computer while listening with noise cancelling headphones. The occasional buffer is worth it. It's like being in the stands, only without someone spilling beer down your back.

What's the most important thing to take away from the match? Simply the fact an entire season played out in 90+ minutes with no other games to distract from the high drama. I can't repeat it enough. Other than stuffy purists and Leicester fans, I can't imagine anyone who came away not entertained. If this is the fare to be expected on Friday evenings, I'm all for it. Everyone should be.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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