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Will Arsenal cure slow starts?

11 August 2017 National Sport


Last Updated: 11/08/17 5:59am

Wenger hopes Arsenal’s Community Shield victory will lead to a fast start

Arsenal Wenger has set Arsenal the target of 85 points in the Premier League this season, but how many of those will be gained on the opening weekend of the new campaign?

“We have had some bad starts recently in the last four years in the first game of the Premier League,” acknowledged Wenger after Arsenal’s signed off pre-season preparations for their opener against Leicester with victory over champions Chelsea in the Community Shield.

“We want to find a good balance between the confidence we can get out of these games and the urgency that every Premier League game demands.”

It’s the demands of the season’s opening weekend which Arsenal haven’t met with particular success in recent years.

While sprint finishes to seasons have remained a hallmark of Wenger’s teams, fast starts were also a common feature in his most successful era with the Frenchman winning 10 of his first 13 opening-day Premier League fixtures and losing only one.

But it has been a different story so far this decade with a narrow victory at home to Crystal Palace in August 2014 Arsenal’s only opening-day success in the last seven years.

Arsenal’s troubled opening days

Season Opponent Venue Result
2010/11 Liverpool Away 1-1
2011/12 Newcastle Away 0-0
2012/13 Sunderland Home 0-0
2013/14 Aston Villa Home 1-3
2014/15 Crystal Palace Home 2-1
2015/16 West Ham Home 0-2
2016/17 Liverpool Home 3-4

They have fared little better in the second match, winning it just three times in that same period. In fact, they haven’t opened a season with back-to-back wins since 2009.

As Arsenal bid to avoid a third successive opening-weekend reverse at the Emirates on Friday night, we look back at some of those recent slow starts…

2016/17

Wenger said his players were “not ready physically” after a bruising 4-3 home defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of last season.

Despite beating pre-season title favourites Manchester City in a friendly the previous weekend, Wenger admitted Arsenal were undone by inexperience against Liverpool after injuries and unavailability meant he paired new signing Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, who had featured just 12 times the previous season, at centre back.

Alexis Sanchez shows the pain as Arsenal ship four against Liverpool at home

Alexis Sanchez shows the pain as Arsenal ship four against Liverpool at home

Alexis Sanchez shows the pain as Arsenal ship four against Liverpool at home

Without Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud, all given extended breaks after Euro 2016, Arsenal started well enough against Jurgen Klopp’s side and Theo Walcott put them ahead.

But the Gunners then shipped four goals in an astonishing 19-minute spell either side of half-time, amid rising anger around the Emirates. Despite pulling the score back to 4-3 with 15 minutes to go, Arsenal couldn’t force an equaliser and the players walked off the pitch to a chorus of boos.

But, despite the inevitable wave of negative headlines and fan anger, the Liverpool game proved the only significant blip in Arsenal’s start to the campaign. After a steadying 0-0 draw at champions Leicester the following weekend, Arsenal won their next six games and went top of the table by mid-October with their title challenge not beginning to fizzle out until the New Year.

2015/16

Petr Cech’s league debut for his new club proved forgettable as the former Chelsea ‘keeper was at fault for at least one, and possibly both, of West Ham’s goals as the east Londoners gave new manager Slaven Bilic a winning debut at the Emirates.

A league debut to forget for Petr Cech two years ago

A league debut to forget for Petr Cech two years ago

A league debut to forget for Petr Cech two years ago

In the final minutes of the first half, Cech missed his punch from a West Ham free kick to allow Cheikhou Kouyate to head the visitors in front, before the summer signing was beaten on his near post from outside the area by Mauro Zarate’s powerful, low shot.

An away win at Crystal Palace the following weekend delivered an immediate response but a goalless home draw with Liverpool a week later meant Arsenal had made another stuttering start to the campaign. But seven wins from the next eight changed the mood and Arsenal went top after their 10th match of the season.

Arsenal points hauls after three games (maximum 9)

Season Arsenal Eventual champions
2010/11 7 7
2011/12 1 9
2012/13 5 6
2013/14 6 6
2014/15 5 9
2015/16 4 7
2016/17 4 9

2013/14

‘Spend, Spend, Spend’ read one fan banner held out behind the Arsenal dugout after a shock 3-1 victory for Aston Villa meant Arsenal suffered their first opening-day defeat since 2000 – and first at home since a Micky Quinn hat-trick for Coventry in August 1993.

With the unknown Yaya Sanogo the only summer arrival ahead of the first game, Arsenal’s second-half collapse against Aston Villa brought simmering fan anger over the club’s lack of transfer activity that off-season to the surface.

And Arsenal did spend - £42.5m on Mesut Ozil two weeks later

And Arsenal did spend - £42.5m on Mesut Ozil two weeks later

And Arsenal did spend – £42.5m on Mesut Ozil two weeks later

Little over two weeks later and the club more than doubled their record transfer fee to sign Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for £42.5m.

With victories over London rivals Fulham and Tottenham registered between the Villa defeat and Ozil’s signing, the arrival of the German playmaker into the starting XI helped stretch his new team’s unbeaten run to nine games. Top of the table, Arsenal continued to set the Premier League pace until February.

2011/12

What is arguably Arsenal’s most tumultuous start to a season in the Wenger era actually began with a fairly drab goalless draw away at Newcastle, a game in which Gervinho was sent off on his debut after clashing with Joey Barton.

But, in a summer which had been dominated by transfer sagas of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, the wheels came off in a 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool and then, in Arsenal’s heaviest defeat under Wenger, an 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Wenger can't look as Arsenal are dismantled by Liverpool in 2011

Wenger can't look as Arsenal are dismantled by Liverpool in 2011

Wenger can’t look as Arsenal are dismantled by Liverpool in 2011

Two days later and, with Wenger under huge pressure to buy reinforcements, four players arrived in the space of 48 hours and Arsenal returned from the International break to register their first win of the season against Swansea.

Defeats against Blackburn and Tottenham left the Gunners in 15th place at the start of October, before a run of just one defeat in 12 matches propelled them back into contention for the Champions League places.


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