Whisper softly, but Arsenal may have found exactly what they were looking for. A virtuoso performance by Gabriel Jesus on his home debut resulted in his first two competitive goals for the club and a second win to start the season perfectly for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Even Leicester’s late blowback after an own goal by William Saliba and James Maddison that narrowed the deficit to one goal couldn’t stop the hosts, as Granit Xhaka – courtesy of a roar from goalkeeper Danny Ward – and Gabriel Martinelli provided the points in the second half.
It is certainly a contrast to last season’s start, when two defeats left Arsenal at the bottom of the Premier League standings and Arteta raised serious questions about his future. But despite the disappointment at missing out on Champions League qualification in May, there is already evidence of his team’s progress after a busy summer in the transfer market, including the signing of Jesus from Manchester City.
“We know what Gabby can do – he’s disappointed in that dressing room because he knows he could have scored more goals,” said a delighted Arteta, who also paid tribute to the home fans for holding Saliba after his own goal. “That shows the connection and it was just the kind of support he needed.”
On a blazing day in north London, every Arsenal player was enthusiastically received before kick-off as Arteta sided with the win over Crystal Palace last week. But as if to underline the anticipation of his coming from City, an extra loud roar was reserved for Jesus.
After losing a 2-0 lead in their opening game against Brentford last week, Brendan Rodgers also opted for an unchanged squad and arranged his team in a formation designed to absorb the pressure and hit Arsenal at halftime.
That plan almost paid off in the first three minutes when Aaron Ramsdale had to make a save to deny the marauding Wesley Fofana.
After that early wake-up call, Arsenal took control. Jesus was the linchpin in everything, just failing to convert a free kick within the first 10 minutes before Xhaka headed a header from Bukayo Saka’s cross to the post and Oleksandr Zinchenko fired the rebound over the bar. The moment all Arsenal supporters had been waiting for came shortly after. Jesus brilliantly kicked off his feet after receiving the ball in the area, then curled a beautiful shot past Danny Ward via a small deflection.
It was the 25-year-old’s sixth goal against Leicester in eight games and they didn’t have long to wait for the next one. The ball, lurking on the back post for a corner, seemed to be drawn to Jesus’ forehead like a magnet after the Leicester defenders failed to clear it.
How Jesus didn’t end the afternoon with a hat-trick, only he will know. The first chance came within 60 seconds of his second goal and he tried again in the 83rd minute before being replaced by Eddie Nketiah to a standing ovation. Ward’s two excellent saves to deny Jesus the match ball will sadly be overshadowed by his mistake for Xhaka’s goal.
Previously, Leicester had been denied a penalty when Jamie Vardy hit the deck after reaching the ball for Ramsdale. The referee, Darren England, immediately pointed to the spot, but it was quickly overruled by VAR after replays showed minimal contact, although Vardy escaped a booking.
Arsenal showed that they still have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. An innocent long ball forward at the start of the second half shouldn’t have caused any drama, even after James Justin had won the first header. But after his excellent debut against Palace last week, Saliba’s intervention as he tried to guide the ball back to Ramsdale was not one to remember.
Fortunately for the Frenchman, Leicester was also in the mood to give and Ward’s failure to collect a simple cross two minutes later enabled Xhaka to recover the cushion with two goals. Rodgers responded by giving up his three-man defense before Kelechi Iheanacho was called up to replace Vardy. A final escape from Saliba was needed to keep the Nigerian out, but when Iheanacho set up Maddison to make it 3-2 with 16 minutes to go, it looked like Leicester could even take a point. “We made mistakes at key moments in the game,” Rodgers acknowledged.
However, much to Arteta’s relief, Jesus and Martinelli teamed up again to score a fourth goal, ultimately putting the game out of Leicester’s reach and allowing Arsenal fans to dream of what this season could turn into.