Arsenal and Leicester kick-off the 2017/18 Premier League campaign. Can their new strikers produce better results or will it be same old, same old?
That the match takes place on a Friday evening is a development that warrants further writing. TGIF assumes a double meaning with the last letter standing for both Friday and football. For now, however, the question is…
Who will triumph in the battle of new strikers?
Both sides recruited sensational young strikers this summer. Generously, the scheduling gods gifted fans an immediate opportunity to compare. Alexander Lacazette and Kelechi Iheanacho (we assume) will play for their new clubs in a genuinely competitive match. Who will perform better?
Iheanacho, who has had relative success at Manchester City, knows his way around the rigours and strains of Premier League defences. Lacazette has not yet been given a stern test. Debut goals would, of course, be welcomed by both sets of fans. More important, for now, is how well each player adapts to his new environment.
Lacazette was largely quiet against Chelsea in the Community Shield but nearly scored with a curling effort that struck the post. Apart from a few tidy passes, the Frenchman never really got going, thus failed to steal any headlines. His first Premier League goal would provide assurance for the club and confidence for the striker. On the other hand, Arsene Wenger would be content to witness some cohesive link-up play between the former Lyon star and his supporting attack.
Iheanacho’s most pressing question is whether he will start alongside Jamie Vardy or on the bench? Will Craig Shakespeare be brave and daring in fielding two recognisable strikers at the Emirates? Vardy’s relentless running and insatiable appetite for being in the thick of the action could well be complemented by the Nigerian’s composed, goal-scoring touch.
Nothing is decided on an opening day. Yet, if Vardy and Iheanacho do play alongside each other and show glimpses of might be, Shakespeare should certainly persist with such a potentially dangerous attack. If he doesn’t give it a go, he’ll be answering questions all the live long day over why he spent £25 million on a back up?
Same old, same old?
Claudio Ranieri’s legend was blighted when Leicester plummeted down the table following an unthinkable Premier League title. Perhaps the most obvious reason for this disastrous capitulation was Ranieri’s tactical tweaks and changes. His meddling unsettled players, aversely affecting their confidence.
Once the outrage over Ranieri’s dismissal dissipated, people began to see merit in Shakespeare’s appointment. His side played an impressive Champions League quarter-final against Athletico Madrid. Domestically, they clawed their way back to a respectable 12th.
Shakespeare’s decision to reinstate the familiar 4-4-2 and tactics that underpinned their title run stabilised the Foxes. Why change a winning formula? Shakespeare should remember the lesson. He need not dabble too much in tactical changes; rather, stick to his guns. Same old, same old’s negative connotation cedes precedence to ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ at the King Power.
Not so the Gunners. Arsenal do not want to wilt away like they so often have. Too often, the North Londoners’ paper-thin armour is harshly exposed in micro-cosmic games such as this. A Premier League champion must consistently see off lower-half sides–anyone below the top six, really. Arsenal has frequently failed to do so in recent years. You can criticise Wenger’s record against the big boys but failing against beatable teams is more egregious. After all, you play them more.
Cast your mind back to Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to West Ham, at home, on an opening weekend, in Slaven Bilic’s first match in charge of the Hammers. Could anyone really see Arsenal as title contenders after such a result? Starts often, though admittedly not always, set the tone for the season. If Arsenal once more fail to fend off their demons, Gooners could be set for another disappointing season.