Arsenal dominated possession throughout but had to hold on late in an exciting 0-0 draw against the champions, Leicester City.
Arsene Wenger made four changes to the Opening Day XI that lost 4-3 to Liverpool. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla came in for the injured Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey. Granit Xhaka was handed his first Arsenal start in place of Mohamed Elneny. Laurent Koscielny was declared fit enough to start and, somewhat surprisingly, replaced Calum Chambers in the starting lineup. It was a big call by Wenger to start the inexperienced youngster and, thankfully, it did not backfire.
Outside of an initial first few, dangerous seconds from the home side, the Gunners dominated possession throughout the first half. Despite all that possession, Arsenal’s first half-chance came in the 25th minute through Oxlade-Chamberlain. Cutting in from the left wing, The Ox tried to whip a curled effort in but it fell just wide.
Arsenal might have lucked into a goal in the 31st minute on a Santi Cazorla free kick. After Nampalys Mendy clipped Alexis’ heel 40 yards from goal on the left side, the Spainiard whipped in a free kick to the far post which nearly snuck in if not for a fine stop from Kasper Schmeichel.
Leicester City had their first opportunity on goal in the 42nd minute as Riyad Mahrez played a throughball towards Arsenal summer target Jamie Vardy. Petr Cech read the danger well but spilled the ball. Danny Drinkwater was there to follow up and the hosts had a penalty shout as Koscielny challenged the midfielder’s run. It was difficult to see from the replay whether or not Koscielny got any of either the ball or the man, but it was a heartbeat-skipping moment for Arsenal fans.
All in all, it was a solid half of football for the Gunners, who dominated possession and limited the champions’ attack to 2 shots overall and no shots on goal. As you might expect with Alexis playing in an unfamiliar position and Mesut Özil on the bench, Arsenal struggled to create chances in open play. However, they did look more fluid in possession with Xhaka showing more in that role than Arsenal have had in recent years.
Leicester City was forced to make a change in the 53rd minute as Mendy’s boot got stuck in the grass while making a challenge, leading to a nasty twist. Andy King, a more attack-minded midfielder, took his place.
The hosts had their first half-chance of the second half in the 56th minute as Mahrez sent a free kick just over the bar after Coquelin has taken him down just outside of the penalty area. The Frenchman probably would have seen a second yellow had he not already been booked.
Arsenal had a great opportunity to open the scoring in the 58th minute but Coquelin held the ball too long and Walcott had strayed just offside.
The second half continued to be more open with both sides having potentially dangerous moments cut out before materializing into goal-scoring opportunities. One finally materialized for the Foxes in the 70th minute as Marc Albrighton dispossessed Xhaka and put Vardy in on goal, only for Koscielny to recover well and force Vardy to fire wide of Cech’s post.
In the 73rd minute, Xhaka and Cazorla went off and Özil and Jack Wilshere came on. Predictably, Wenger left on Coquelin, who was on a yellow card and had narrowly escaped a second on his earlier foul on Mahrez. Why he persists with this, none will ever know.
The substitutes quickly made a mark as Özil turned nicely which began a move that led to Walcott firing a left-footed shot into Schmeichel’s arms.
Wenger used his final sub in the 78th minute as Olivier Giroud came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the brighter Arsenal performers on the day.
The game began to open up even more after Giroud’s introduction with Walcott being presented with a great opportunity only to have it blocked by Wes Morgan. On the other end, Rob Holding cut out a couple of Vardy opportunities to break, only to be nutmegged in the 81st minute. Fortunately for Arsenal, Coquelin recovered to put in the tackle on the striker.
Leicester City used their final sub in the 87th minute as summer signing Ahmed Musa came on for Albrighton. The former CSKA Moscow man made an immediate impact by skinning Bellerin in the 88th minute and earning a penalty shout. Bellerin definitely made contact, but I guess Mark Clattenburg was unimpressed by the attacker throwing his legs into Bellerin’s. Arsenal quickly countered and the chip was on for Walcott, but he could only loft it right into Schmeichel’s grateful hands.
Leicester City had a great chance to nick a victory late as Mahrez drove into the box, past Koscielny only to have his shot well saved by Cech. Musa had a chance to shoot on the rebound but opted to tamely pass instead.
The hosts had the final opportunity of the match as Holding fouled Leonardo Ulloa at the edge of the box, but Drinkwater’s free kick was into the wall.
The end result was likely a fair one as Arsenal dominated much of the match and Leicester threatening late. Thankfully for Arsenal fans, it was a much more composed defensive effort, with Koscielny looking great and Holding holding his own with Vardy under clear instructions to target the youngster.
In the end, Wenger will likely point to a number of important Coquelin challenges late to justify his substitution. However, the midfielder also misplaced numerous passes and was dispossessed at least once after Xhaka was subbed off.
Arsenal’s next match is a Premier League contest on the road against Watford where the Gunners will surely be looking to notch their first win of the campaign.