Sunday 18 March 2018

Stephen Hunt: Friday night was a reminder of why we love the Premier League so much

Alexandre Lacazette cost Arsenal £52.7million from Lyon and the club’s record signing looks to be a great investment; he can play and he’s a natural goalscorer and a good finisher. Photo: Getty
Alexandre Lacazette cost Arsenal £52.7million from Lyon and the club’s record signing looks to be a great investment; he can play and he’s a natural goalscorer and a good finisher. Photo: Getty
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

I know we've missed it but when the Premier League kick-off came around at Arsenal on Friday night, I wasn't really up for it. My mind was on the second round of the USPGA and today's hurling semi-final. But they had me in two minutes.

What a brilliant start to the season. It could have been a damp squib. Two guarded teams cancelling each other out, more interested in protecting themselves and not losing. It was the complete opposite. As soon as the game finished, I was looking at the weekend fixtures and then checking out who Arsenal and Leicester play next weekend. I bet we all were.

Arsenal travel to Stoke and they will go there in good shape and full of confidence after two late goals gave that them a win over a Leicester side who now have to lift themselves for the visit of Brighton. That could be dangerous.

Arsene Wenger paid Lyon £52.7m for Alexandre Lacazette and he looks a very good investment. He can play; he is a natural goalscorer and good finisher.

When Olivier Giroud came on for the last quarter, Lacazette was pushed wide and not only did he look comfortable out there but he didn't look like he was bothered that he was playing wide and handing the central role to Giroud.

And he worked hard throughout, which is important when you have Mezut Ozil in your side because you can't carry two players. I am not going to criticise a German World Cup winner but Ozil's defensive work is not his strongest point. Let's just say Lacazette doesn't look like a player who is not prepared to work hard and track back when he loses the ball.

The record fee paid for Lacazette ends Giroud's reign as the first choice central striker, but as long as he remains the main man for France and keeps his place in the national side in World Cup year, I think he will be content to sit on the bench. He can still score goals, change games as a substitute, and it doesn't surprise me he will stay at the Emirates for another season. With the Europa League for Arsenal to also contend with, he will get starts and goals.

The signing who could prove to be one of the best of the season, especially on a free, is Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac who was a victim of his own desperation to impress. But he will calm down and realise he can't be the hero every week.

The Arsenal fans will love him and he is a player who can lift the crowd because of the way he plays. He runs forward at pace, doesn't pass sideways but wants to go forward and get into positions where he is difficult to track.

What he was doing in the Leicester area to unselfishly give Danny Welbeck the tap-in for Arsenal's second, no-one knows. But he has to take his share of the blame for Leicester's first goal after leaving his post when Arsenal had failed to deal with a corner. The player on the far post is not the strongest header of the ball because it is so rare the ball is crossed to that area, but if Kolasinac had stayed in position he'd have headed it clear.

Wenger selected three defenders at the start of the game, possibly thinking that the Leicester attack is all about pace. There is no physical contact so it suits to play that system with Nacho Monreal in the middle. I would be very surprised if Wenger employs that for the big games though. Strikers like Romelu Lukaku will pin their markers down in a physical contest, turn for goal and go.

Jamie Vardy is clearly raring to go. The desire and hunger for goals that he displayed in the title-winning season was back which is great news for the Foxes.

Teams might have stopped giving respect to Leicester, like they did last season, and that will suit them judging by the way they played against Arsenal. Last season was a success for the business. They secured another Premier League season and had the added bonus of enjoying the Champions League and reaching the knock-out stages.

This was back to the best of that pressure counter-attack and it's a shame that Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater look certain to leave because these will be difficult players to replace. As we come to the halfway point of the month, Leicester are running out of time.

Mahrez is in the shop window so he looked up for it against Arsenal and he provided an assist for Leicester's third. We're waiting to see when the major deals go through - Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton - and then Mahrez comes into play.

One player I don't see moving in this window is Alexis Sanchez. He has the carrot of a free transfer at the end of the season if he stays at Arsenal. But he may find that he has no say in the matter because Wenger will decide.

The Arsenal manager is stubborn. If he says Sanchez is not for sale, then I would say he is not for sale. Wenger has control of the board when it comes to transfers so he has control of Sanchez. Unless that changes, and I can't see it, then Sanchez will see out his year.

If Arsenal get results without him, it will be a test for the board because the offers will come in. But I would remind them the season is a marathon and not a sprint, and there will be times when you need a positive Alexis Sanchez. And if Wenger can't get Sanchez onside, he won't have a negative one. Because, speaking as an ex-pro, when he is negative, he looks horrendous.

Money doesn't come into it for these boys. It's about where you want to play your football, whether you have a chance of winning trophies and playing in a team which will challenge for the Champions League.

Friday night was a reminder of what the Premier League is all about and why we love it. Leicester are the equivalent of a team like Real Zaragoza in Spain but you never get a game like that in La Liga with that kind of atmosphere.

Surely you would rather be challenged in these type of games and playing in front of these crowds.

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