Europa League football arrived at the Emirates with a confusing, edgy, complicated energy. A one-hour delay due to the enormous band of Cologne supporters who travelled – many thousands in excess of the official allocation of 3,000 – and the intense atmosphere created inside the ground ensured that this Thursday night football lark felt mightily different even before a ball was kicked.
The visiting fans took over the Clock End, which made life intimidating for the home support who had seats in that area. Some felt unsafe and were advised by stewards to move. From the supposed sanctuary of the Family Enclosure to the high hospitality rung of Club Level, this corner of north London turned into Cologne on tour.
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Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to a new season reminiscent of the old at the Emirates, where the good news is Arsenal broke their transfer record for a striker but the bad news is they ended their first game of the season with a classically dysfunctional defence. It was an extraordinary combination – a midfield player at right-back, two left-backs at centre-back and a right-back at left-back. Confused? Who wouldn’t be. Leicester had all the clarity as they took advantage and a 3-2 lead into the final stages of an intoxicating tussle.
Oh Arsenal. Typical Arsenal. Absurd Arsenal. But where in seasons past this kind of situation tended to end with opening day navel-gazing, this time they found the resources to twist the tale with a theatrical flourish. Wenger threw on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud to attempt a rescue mission and both of them delivered with goals to transform the atmosphere from fretful and pressurised to the liberating joy of a thumping comeback. The match-winner from Giroud sent shudders through north London. In finding the composure to power a header while wrestling his marker he made his point that the purchase of Alexandre Lacazette would not easily make him expendable.
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