Analysis as Alexandre Lacazette begins Arsenal career in style while Jamie Vardy is at his ruthless best

Alex Rea 12/08/2017
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Olivier Giroud came off the bench to head home a late winner and seal three points for Arsenal in a topsy-turvy Premier League opener against Leicester.

The Gunners had won just one of their last seven opening-day fixtures and looked destined to start another campaign slowly as the 2015-16 champions took the lead twice only to lose 4-3.

The night started perfectly for Arsenal as new signing Alexandre Lacazette marked his league debut with a goal after just 94 seconds, only for Shinji Okazaki to cancel it out three minutes later.

Jamie Vardy then capitalised on awful defending to twice put the Foxes ahead either side of Danny Welbeck’s equaliser before Arsene Wenger sent on the cavalry.

Substitute Aaron Ramsey rifled home to level before Giroud – introduced alongside the Wales international – headed in an 85th-minute winner to settle a breathless encounter in Arsenal’s favour.

Here, we analyse the performance of two key protagonists, Lacazette and Vardy.

Basic stats

LACAZETTE

Goals – 1

Shots 3

Shots on target – 2

Touches – 40

Key passes – 3

Dribbles – 1

Dispossessed – 2

Aerials won – 1

Lacazette celebrates his Arsenal opener

Lacazette celebrates his Arsenal opener

VARDY

Goals – 2

Shots – 2

Shots on target – 2

Touches – 20

Key passes – 0

Dribbles – 0

Dispossessed – 0

Aerials won – 2

Jamie Vardy celebrates his first goal

Jamie Vardy celebrates his first goal

EFFECTIVENESS

LACAZETTE

Arsenal looked far more dynamic going forward with Lacazette’s fluidity making it incredibly difficult for Leicester to pick him up.

The visitors lost track of him when he drifted out onto the left and his movement dragged Wes Morgan out of position, opening space for midfield runners to get in behind.

He started the game in explosive fashion as he delightfully headed Arsenal in front with just his second touch of the game – the first of which was the kick off – but then hit a bit of a lull leading into and after the break.

The introduction of Giroud in the 67th minute saw him jolt back into life, though. Having a targetman alongside him to hold the ball up allowed him to link back up with Mesut Ozil and Ramsey and saw him get on the ball.

His talent is obvious but a little bit of a mixed evening in terms of impact.

Lacazette has this shot saved by Schmeichel

Lacazette has this shot saved by Schmeichel

VARDY

Sharp and smart, Leicester’s No9 terrorised Arsenal’s back three with his electric pace and direct running repeatedly penning them back.

He was either running at Arsenal’s defence or pulling into the space behind, floating in between all three and causing a nuisance.

His finishing for both goals was superb and his work rate, as it always is, was exemplary.

He’s now scored five goals in his last five Premier League appearances against Arsenal – clearly their bogeyman.

Continue in this storming form and Leicester won’t be exhibiting the troubles of last season.

Jamie Vardy scores his side's second

Jamie Vardy scores his side’s second

KEY MOMENTS

LACAZETTE

2nd min (GOAL) – A dream debut for Lacazette as the £52million summer signing headed in an elegant opener. Arsenal switched the ball from left-to-right and Hector Bellerin cut the ball back to the supporting Mohamed Elneny who chipped the ball into the box first time for Lacazette to head into the left-hand corner from six yards out.

47th min – Lacazette played a big part in Arsenal’s equaliser, although inadvertently, as Mesut Ozil fed the ball to the Frenchman inside Leicester’s box in first-half injury time and as he lost his footing, the ball squirmed to Sead Kolasinac who rolled the ball to Welbeck for a tap in.

83rd min – Kasper Schmeichel made a great save to deny Lacazette after he slalomed his way into the box and from the resulting corner Giroud’s towering header struck the bar and bounced over the line.

VARDY

29th min (GOAL) – Vardy damped Lacazette’s debut party as he put the visitors 2-1 ahead. Marc Albrighton, rampant on the left for the Foxes, surged forward in the space left by Arsenal’s compact back three and whipped a wicked ball across Arsenal’s six-yard box. Vardy adjusted his feet well to get in front of Kolasinac and nail the ball from close range.

53rd min – An incredible piece of goalkeeping from Petr Cech kept Vardy away from his second as Xhaka and Elneny lost possession and with Arsenal players committed forward, Riyad Mahrez put Vardy in behind. He looked clean through until Cech timed his sprint to perfection and to slide the ball off his toes.

56th min (GOAL) – Horrendous marking from Arsenal gave Vardy the space he needed to head past Cech and put Leicester 3-2 in front. Mahrez whipped in a delightful corner and without any real aerial presence, Vardy rose highest to apply the finish.

VERDICT

LACAZETTE

Ozil gave him pretty poor service which resulted in a bit of a mixed performance but he took his goal and looked a real danger in the first and final quarters of the game.

Questionable if he can hold the line on his own but with Giroud alongside him looked far more comfortable.

6.5/10

VARDY

A quintessential Vardy performance and he’ll be devastated not to be coming away on the winning side.

He’s picking up where he left last season off after a strong end to the 2016/17 campaign.

8/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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Coutinho would have to do his best Iniesta impersonation rather than replace Neymar if he joins Barcelona

Andy West 11/08/2017
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One Brazilian out, another Brazilian in?

Barcelona’s dogged pursuit of Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho could easily be perceived as an attempt by the Catalan club to find a quick replacement for departed superstar Neymar.

In fact, however, Coutinho could more accurately be regarded as the intended long-term heir for an arguably even more important player: Andres Iniesta.

Club captain Iniesta has, of course, been a fundamental part of Barca’s success over the last decade, initially shining as one of the Holy Trinity of ball players – alongside Xavi and Lionel Messi – who mesmerised the world under the management of Pep Guardiola.

Although his influence has not been quite so strong in recent years since the team’s emphasis switched to the forward play of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, Iniesta has still been vitally important in providing a link between midfield and attack, with his presence being sorely missed whenever he is sidelined.

And sadly, the sight of Iniesta being sidelined has become – and will continue to become – increasingly common as the effects of ageing take their inevitable toll.

Iniesta started just 13 league games last season, with then-manager Luis Enrique preferring to save his energies for big games and the European stage, and with the playmaker now 33 years old it’s highly unlikely that trend will be reversed under new boss Ernesto Valverde.

Messi and Iniesta

Messi and Iniesta

Quite simply, Barca need to replace Iniesta in a way they have never succeeded in replacing Xavi.

Four or five years ago, the succession plan seemed clear: rising star Thiago Alcantara and re-signed local boy Cesc Fabregas were in place to become ‘the new Xavi and Iniesta’, and Barca’s retention of their possession-based game seemed assured.

But then Thiago – feeling under-appreciated and under-used – fled to Bayern Munich, and Fabregas – whose second spell at his hometown club strangely fizzled out – was allowed to return to the Premier League with Chelsea.

And ever since, Barca have desperately struggled to replenish their midfield stocks.

Plenty of players have been given opportunities, but only Ivan Rakitic has looked up to the mark with others such as Sergi Roberto, Andre Gomes, Arda Turan, Denis Suarez and Rafinha all struggling to exert themselves.

The first-choice trio of Iniesta, Rakitic and Sergio Busquets is still more than a match for anyone but behind them the options do not look good, and with Iniesta a fading force there is a clear need for top-quality reinforcements.

Barca’s first choice was Marco Verratti, but Paris Saint-Germain claimed the first of their victories over the Camp Nou club this summer by successfully rejecting all advances for the Italian ace.

So now sights have been set on Coutinho, who is clearly keen to move to Spain and, in all likelihood, will eventually succeed in forcing his departure from Liverpool.

Whether or not Coutinho is the right player to replace Iniesta is debateable, and opinion is certainly divided among fans.

The Liverpool star possesses the right technical qualities, but there are question marks over his ability to control the tempo of a game and, in particular, his defensive attributes.

Coutinho’s best position has always looked to be the ‘number ten’ position, probing and penetrating around the edge of the opposition penalty area.

But Barca already have a number ten who fills that role rather well, and if Coutinho does ever arrive at Camp Nou he would have to make sure he didn’t, literally, get in Messi’s way by occupying the spaces in which the Argentine operates.

His task, rather than replacing Neymar or replicating Messi, would be to perform his best impersonation of Iniesta. And that is no simple task.

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Javier Hernandez touted as a bargain but West Ham need him to score more than the 13 he managed last season

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MANAGER

Slaven Bilic

STAR MAN

Manuel Lanzini

LAST SEASON

11th

TOP SCORER

Michail Antonio (9)

KEY INS

Marko Arnautovic (Stoke, £25m), Javier Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen, £16m), Pablo Zabaleta (Man City, free), Joe Hart (Man City, loan)

Marko Arnautovic

Marko Arnautovic

KEY OUTS

Havard Nordtveit (Hoffenheim, £8m), Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough, £5m), Ashley Fletcher (Boro, £6.5m)

REASONS TO BE POSITIVE

The arrival of Arnautovic and Hernandez has bolstered a goal-shy and predictable frontline that had relied too heavily on Andy Carroll being fit.

REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC

Conceding goals was an even bigger problem than scoring them last year – big pressure on Hart to recapture his best form.

ONE TO WATCH

Javier Hernandez is being touted as a bargain but West Ham will need him to score more than the 13 he managed last season.

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez

EXPECTATION

If they make London Stadium a tougher place for sides to visit, a top-half finish is not out of reach.

REALITY

They have not brought in enough bodies and those they have are surrounded by question marks. Could be a tough season for Bilic.

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