Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? Unlike last year's snooze-fest against Hull, this year’s opener against Arsenal was an action-packed parade of goals that made for terrific entertainment for the neutrals. Unfortunately, we got the same number of points (zero) as we did from last term's first match.
City played well in some areas of the pitch, but when they return to the training ground, the focus won’t be on the things that went right. The question Craig Shakespeare will undoubtedly be asking is "how did the defense give up four goals?"
Goal #1 (Alexandre Lacazette):
Watching in real time, I thought that Wes Morgan had been caught napping, but seeing the replays, I'm not so sure. Harry Maguire was in no-man's land, leaving the Leicester captain to mark both Arsenal attackers. Big Wes was tight on Welbeck, but Mohamdy Elneny’s first-timer picked out the former PSG man, who glanced home from 14 yards. This looks like a lack of communication between between two centre-halfs who haven't worked together often enough.
Goal #2 (Danny Welbeck):
A bit of a comedy of errors, this one was. Lacazette slipped while trying to collect Mesut Ozil's low pass to Welbeck. Maguire got a toe to it and it fell to the very-close-to-being-offside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Leicester back line raised their hands in unison, but the flag stayed down. Two on one with the keeper, the wing back slid the ball to the former United forward who had the simplest of tap-ins to level the match.
I can't lay this one at the feet of the defenders; Arsenal got the ball to a striker inside the area far too easily.
Goal #3 (Aaron Ramsey):
The image of Claudio Ranieri closing his hands towards each other, urging the defense to remain compact, was seen in almost every televised match last year. For Ramsey's equaliser, the team took that advice to an unhealthy extreme. Take a look at this grainy but nonetheless helpful image of the Leicester defense immediately prior to the Welsh international's goal:
All eleven outfield players are in the image, and exactly none of them are on the left side of the pitch. It looks as though City have deployed seven central defenders to mark three Gunners.
The Arsenal attack seems to have been keenly aware of this as there were three unmarked attackers, deep in the City penalty area, begging for the ball. When it inevitably arrived, the former Cardiff City man had far too much time to bring the ball down and slot it into the back of the net.
P.S. Yes, Ozil controlled the ball with his arm. That doesn’t let the defense off the hook.
Goal #4 (Olivier Giroud):
The less said about this one the better. Giroud is tall and strong and he was fresh from just coming off the bench, which makes him difficult to defend under the best of circumstances. When he has a fistful of your shirt collar and is shoving you to the ground? Good luck to you.
You'd hope that Harry Maguire would be strong enough to go hold off the French striker, but that's a big ask when Giroud's being clever. You can't really fault the defending on this one, or at least I can't.
What have we learned?
If there’s a common thread that runs through these goals, it’s a failure to execute the basics: Stick with you man, communicate with your teammates, and keep your shape. It’s only one game, and they’re not all going to be against Arsenal away, but the gaffer will be disappointed not just with the tally of goals conceded, but with the manner in which they were scored as well.
The thing that surprised me, watching the replays, was that Harry Maguire bore some responsibility for at least three of the Arsenal goals. He looked out of position for the first, he knocked the ball into Ozil’s path for the second, and he was outmuscled by Giroud for the fourth (if you can pinpoint exactly which player was at fault for the third, you’ve got a better eye than I do). I still think the former Hull man showed a lot during the match and he’s going to be our best buy of the summer, but he didn’t have quite as good a match as I’d thought.
It should also be noted that the last two goals were scored after a series of puzzling substitutions. Daniel Amartey was brought on for Shinji Okazaki, presumably to shore up the defense, but at the cost of changing a formation that had been effective up to that point. Kelechi Iheanacho came on next, replacing Matty James, and from that point forward, it was extremely difficult to determine Leicester’s intended shape. It could be argued that the change in formation, more than errors by the players, caused the confusion that led to Arsenal’s late equaliser and winner.