Premier League: 5 big talking points from Arsenal 4-3 Leicester
1. Alex Lacazette could be transformative
The Frenchman scored the opener on debut within two minutes, and it’s likely he’ll continue in a similar vein for the rest of the campaign. Lacazette had scored 91 goals in Ligue 1 over the last four seasons - more than any other player - but quite reasonably he will be scrutinized from the off in England now he’s finally playing at a higher level.
This first outing was good, though, and he linked up well in Arsenal’s fluid attack for the duration. Wenger nudged him wide when he introduced Olivier Giroud with 20 minutes remaining, after which Lacazette was neat and unselfish in offering himself as a more creative outlet.
It didn’t go entirely to plan for Arsenal on this occasion, but they got their win in the end - and surely things will get easier once Alexis Sanchez is back and supplying for his new French team-mate. Remember too that Sead Kolasniac will be an attacking force to be reckoned with once he’s playing in his proper position on the left.
2. Jamie Vardy is Jamie Vardy again
Nobody really knows whether the striker’s form went stale as a direct result of Claudio Ranieri’s management last season, but there’s no denying that Vardy reverted back to his road-running best from Craig Shakespeare’s very first game in charge.
He finished 2016/17 with eight league goals in his last 13 games and, fresh from sticking two past Borussia Monchengladbach in Leicester’s final pre-season game, the 30-year-old grabbed another brace at the Emirates Stadium. He was fine value for both goals too.
Vardy had scored Leicester’s last three Premier League goals against Arsenal without being on the winning team, but this was surely his most effective display yet. The England striker frightened the life out of poor Rob Holding and was in the right place to convert Marc Albrighton’s delicious cross in the first half, before nudging home a rare headed effort that put Leicester ahead again with 35 minutes left. He’s back all right.
3. Arsenal: flimsy? Say it ain’t so
It always looked like the big area of concern for Arsenal pre-match - but looked even worse for their fans when the teamsheet was released. Laurent Koscielny was suspended from his FA Cup final red card - a genuine, recurring problem in itself - but Per Mertesacker’s nasty cut picked up in the Community Shield meant he too missed out here, while an unfit Shkodran Mustafi only made the bench as expected.
That, however, left Arsene Wenger picking the 21-year-old Holding alongside Nacho Monreal and new left-wing-back Kolasinac in a ramshackle three-man defence.
It didn’t help that neither Mohamed Elneny nor Granit Xhaka protected them well enough, and, though both players ended up with assists to their name, their sloppy distribution put the makeshift defence under more pressure. Holding was torn to shreds by Jamie Vardy, who continually got in behind by raiding the space between the ex-Bolton defender and Hector Bellerin.
Arsenal won’t always be without so many important defenders, but it really wasn’t about that. This was the first siren of the season to indicate Wenger has failed to address the flimsiness that has allowed his teams to be broken so many times down the years. Xhaka, Elneny, Francis Coquelin - it doesn’t really matter. They’re not the central midfielders of a title-winning team.
4. Maguire makes strong start
It’s not outlandish to suggest that Harry Maguire has a strong chance of claiming a place in England’s World Cup squad this summer. Hull’s player of the season for 2016/17 made a smart decision in joining Leicester over the summer - and in turn it looks like the Foxes will be rewarded for shelling out £17m on the stopper and handing him regular football.
Maguire was the standout defender of a madcap game at the Emirates Stadium, imperious in the air and strong on the ground in getting his body where Leicester needed it. The 24-year-old was arguably the Foxes’ best player in pre-season, and looks like just what they needed after a difficult season juggling injuries between Wes Morgan and Robert Huth last time out.
5. But Mahrez offers mixed display in audition
Frankly, ‘mixed’ is generous - because although the Algerian perked up in the second half and whipped in the fine corner that Vardy headed home, he was more feeble than fizzing here.
Mahrez was actually one of Leicester’s better players in pre-season despite publicly stating his intention to leave at the end of last season. Shakespeare had been happy enough with the 26-year-old’s attitude to start him at the Emirates, but he’ll have been disappointed with a weak display where important challenges were lost and possession was given away carelessly.
He is a fine player, and will still probably leave Leicester before the summer’s up, but it's still in doubt because the Foxes’ asking price is putting off potential suitors. Arsenal were thought to be among them in July, but Wenger, having declared himself out of the reckoning on Friday, certainly won’t be rushing to change his mind on this evidence.