Arsenal’s stuttering goalless draw at Premier League champions Leicester City sees frustrated travelling fans call for Arsene Wenger to ‘spend’
PUBLISHED: 19:38 20 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:20 22 August 2016
Arsenal’s stuttering start to the season continued at the home of the reigning champions Leicester City this evening with a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium.
The stalemate sees Arsene Wenger’s men with one point from six as fears grow over the strength and readiness of his squad – with pressure mounting on the Frenchman for his refusal to buy new players.
The goalless draw was full of passion and attacking intent – but ultimately not enough quality in the final third.
After Arsenal’s juddering 4-3 home defeat to Liverpool in their season opener on Sunday, Wenger admitted he would gamble with his French centre half Laurent Koscienly’s fitness by starting him ahead of Callum Chambers at a raucous King Power today - with two other Euro returnees Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil on the bench.
New signing Granit Xhaka – who made more tackles in his short substitute appearance than another Arsenal player in 90 minutes replaced Mohamed Elneny, with Santi Cazorla coming in for Alex Iwobi.
For Leicester Robert Huth returned after a three match ban. With the crowd treated to a reprise of Nessun Dorma moments before kick off in blustery August conditions more suited to Birmingham than Biarritz it was appropriate the Foxes Championship pennant fluttered proudly.
But as minds focussed on the fact both teams had lost their first matches this term, memories were well and truly banished at this atmospheric modern ground – for all that mattered was three points this teatime.
The match – and Leicester City – started at the frenetic pace they ended last season. There was a certain irony in Gunners target Jamie Vardy running at new boy Rob Holding – who could well have been a fellow Arsenal colleague with lower league experience had not Vardy decided to stay in the East Midlands..
In the event the Stockbridge Steels alumni forced a corner, which although came to nothing, certainly gave a taste of the passion of English football to new boy Granit Xhaka who, despite his big-match experience looked bewildered at the noise, intensity and pace of top level of football in his adopted country.
During the 24 years of the Premier League the Gunners had only lost their opening two games once – in the first year of English football’s Brand New World, in 1992/93 with a 4-2 Highbury defeat by Norwich City followed by a 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. To do so again, more than two decades later, at the home of the English Champions, was a distinct possibility as Leicester tore forward irresistibly in the early stages.
The travelling Arsenal fans taunted their Leicester counterparts with a rendition of: ’13 League Titles – you’ve only won one’ – to which Foxes fans replied predictably but with conviction; ‘Champions of England – we know what we are’. It was a reminder not just of this homely club’s truly wonderful season last term – but tellingly a rejoinder of just what Arsenal lost during their all too predictable failed title tilt in the spring,.
Deep along the corridors of the welcoming King Power Stadium is a room manager Claudio Ranieri uses to welcome friends, dignitaries and journalists. On the walls are 20 tasteful black and white photographs of all the bosses in the Premier League,
A year ago it would have been debatable how long the personable Italian’s face would have remained on show, such is the demand for instant success in the world’s most popular division.
However, 12 months on – with an improbable but heart-warming tale of the 5000-1 shots being crowned champions – the more pertinent question is now surely whether Arsenal’s long serving boss will be displayed this time next year.
With fans now in open revolt over their long-established frustrations with the Frenchman – including, but not limited to: successive failures to strengthen the squad with ‘big names’, disillusionment with half-hearted bids, disingenuous excuses about the team not being undercooked for the first game of the season, the frustration of the never-ending injury list, which with the nascent 2016/17 season being seven days old already stands at captain Per Mertesacker, Gabriel, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere – not to mention being asked to cough up the highest ticket prices in football, it is no wonder supporters are at breaking point with the club, and specifically Wenger.
There is also a clamour for the Alsace-born supremo to be held more accountable for his palpable lack of league success as the stadium is no self-sustaining, and for many to stop prostrating themselves at his introducing revolutionary – at the time in 1996 – modernising habits and maximising the talents of hitherto unloved players.
For the former has been superseded by many, while his knack for the latter appears to have deserted him.
And as his remarkable 20th year at Arsenal hones into view next month it is hard not to see Wenger’s innate confidence turning to hubris, self-indulgence, false pride and complacency – which could lead to nemesis, and his leaving the club by May 2017.
Yet the chatter in and around the club is that fans can forget about the stubborn Frenchman being in the last year off his contract – the fact is if owner ‘Silent Stan’ Kroenke is satisfied with the financial results the Frenchman contributes – through his team qualifying for the untold riches of the Champions League by dint of another top four finish – then Wenger may yet be offered another extension, and another spell on Ranieri’s wall.
As the first half progressed in time, if not in a dip in noise levels, Arsenal, who had absorbed the home sides early high powered forays they offered evidence that they were the only team to do the double over the current Champions of England by moving the ball about swiftly – even if praising a Wenger side for dynamic passing prompted by short, incisive movement is a little like waiting for another GB gold medal at the Rio Olympics, in that you simply expect it to happen these days.
Francis Cocquelin was deservedly booked for scything down Vardy to howls of protest on 24 minutes but busy endeavour aside not much of note occurred until the half hour mark – when the busy Santi Carzorla swung a free kick in from the left that Kasper Schmeichel palmed away for a corner that came to nothing. The Spaniard then had a shot comfortably saved by the son of Manchester United legend Peter a short while afterwards.
There was drama on 42 minutes after Drinkwater appeared to have been tripped by Koscielny as he burst into the box following Cech blocking a Vardy burst, but referee Mark Clattenburg decided it was a fair challenge – much to the displeasure of the vociferous home fans and their execrable paper clappers that seem to be needlessly encroaching on our game. It has to be said the referee made the right decision – just.
The second half commenced at the same frenetic pace, with Petr Cech showing nifty, if heart-stopping, skills to outwit Vardy in his box before clearing. Shortly afterwards £10m summer signing from Nice Nampalys Mendy went down after getting his foot stuck in the lush turf and was replaced by Andy King on 52 minutes.
With ten minutes gone in the second half another reputed Arsenal summer target Riyad Mahrez fired just over the bar from a free kick just outside the area. The shot served as a signal that the game was becoming far less cagey. Moments later good work from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saw the ball fall to Hector Bellerin on the edge of the box, who fired a powerful shot at Schmeichel.
On 69 minutes Vardy raced through drew a despairing dive from Koscielny tracking back but fired high and wide of Cech’s goal when the better option appeared to be opening his body and firing across goal. Still it remained 0-0.
With little more than 15 minutes remaining Wenger threw on Jack Wilshere for a tiring Xhaka and Ozil for Carzorla, followed by Giroud for Oxlade-Chamberlain moments later. Ten minutes from time Walcott was through only for his shot to be blocked. Sanchez then fed Ozil who had his low shot smothered by Schmeichel.
In a frantic finish Mahrez almost won it for the Foxes but his shot was saved at the death by Cech.
As the game slid to a goalless stalemate the only noise you could hear was from the loyal travelling Arsenal fans pleading with Wenger to spend some money – or words to that effect.
On this disjointed display they are most certainly correct in their judgement.
Schmeichel, Drinkwater, Morgan (c), Huth, Vardy, Albrighton (Musa), Simpson, Okazaki (Ulloa), Mendy (King), Mahrez, Fuchs,
Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny (c), Sanchez, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Giroud), Holding, Monreal, Cazorla (Ozil), Bellerin, Xhaka (Wilshere), Cocquelin (booked)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg