By Chris Harris at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal started their Premier League campaign on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller against Liverpool.
Theo Walcott missed a penalty but made amends almost immediately with an expert finish from Alex Iwobi’s pass.
Philippe Coutinho’s stunning free-kick pegged Arsenal back in first-half stoppage time and Liverpool took charge after the break as Adam Lallana, Coutinho and Sadio Mane made it four goals in 18 forgettable minutes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain restored belief with a fine solo effort and Calum Chambers headed in Santi Cazorla’s free-kick to keep the home fans hopeful.
But, despite a courageous comeback, Arsenal couldn’t find a fourth.
SETTING THE SCENE
A new season, a new Emirates Stadium pitch, a handful of new rules - and a new name on the teamsheet.
Rob Holding, who probably didn’t expect to make his Premier League debut so soon, lined up alongside Chambers at the heart of defence with new captain Per Mertesacker, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny all unavailable.
Wenger’s rather more high profile summer signing, Granit Xhaka, started on the bench with Mohamed Elneny alongside Francis Coquelin in midfield. Alexis got the nod at centre forward with Walcott edging out Oxlade-Chamberlain for a place on the right.
The sun came out for what was certainly the most eye-catching fixture of the opening weekend. For all football fans it’s the time for clean slates, fresh hope and (cautious) optimism. Arsenal had shone brightly in pre-season; now they had to deliver when it mattered.
The home side started brightly.
There were encouraging early touches from Walcott and promising link-up play between Alexis and Iwobi. Then there was Aaron Ramsey, transmitting his Euro 2016 form into the Premier League.
The Wales star, given greater attacking license in the No 10 role, was pretty much everywhere, full of energy and invention. Ramsey latched onto Alexis’ clever touch to fire straight at Simon Mignolet, and made umpteen forward runs to give his team-mates a penalty-box target.
If anyone doubted Ramsey’s confidence, an audacious attempted lob from 50 yards would have put them straight.
Liverpool looked lively on the break with Coutinho and Mane, allied to the forward bursts of Nathaniel Clyne. The right back got a shot away but it was straight at Petr Cech.
It had been a first half of few chances but there was a glorious one in the 28th minute. Walcott was tripped as he wriggled away from Alberto Moreno, got up to take the penalty himself - and was denied by Mignolet’s flying save.
Redemption was almost instant. Iwobi picked out Walcott on the corner of the box with a crisp diagonal pass, and he found the bottom corner.
Cech denied Georginio Wijnaldum but Arsenal’s captain couldn’t keep out Liverpool’s next effort - a pearler of a free-kick from Coutinho in stoppage time.
Arsenal had bossed most of the first half. Within 11 minutes of the restart they were staring defeat in the face.
Credit to Liverpool. They stepped up their pressing game, Arsenal were forced back, and Coutinho took full advantage. His deft flick played in Wijnaldum down the left, and his cross was chested down by Lallana and fired past Cech.
It got much worse. Clyne raced down the right and fizzed in a low cross that Coutinho flicked past Cech after getting ahead of Holding. Then Mane twisted and turned past two defenders before crashing a shot into the top corner. Brilliant from Mane; misery for Arsenal.
By now Oxlade-Chamberlain was on for Iwobi and he gave the home side a flicker of hope with a wonderful solo goal. The substitute burst in between two defenders and cut inside a third before shooting past Mignolet, helped by a minor deflection.
Xhaka made his debut with Arsenal still deep in trouble, but Chambers’ flicked header from Cazorla’s free-kick set up a grandstand finish.
Liverpool were rocking, but the Gunners had left themselves too much damage to repair. For the fifth time in six years, an opening-day win has eluded them.
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