The opening day of the new Barclays Premier League season produced an early surprise, when Swansea City went to Old Trafford and beat Manchester United to spoil the debut of new manager Louis van Gaal.
Bookending that shock were same late heroics from midfielder Aaron Ramsey to spare Arsenal's blushes at home to Crystal Palace. The Welsh star netted a very late winner to help Arsenal scrap to a 2-1 win.
In between, there was a four-goal thriller between Everton and newly promoted Leicester City. The two sides shared the spoils, earning a point apiece.
Here are the full results from the new season's first fixtures:
|EPL Opening Day Results|
|Manchester United vs. Swansea City||1-2||Swansea|
|Leicester City vs. Everton||2-2||Draw|
|Queens Park Rangers vs. Hull City||0-1||Hull|
|Stoke City vs. Aston Villa||0-1||Villa|
|West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland||2-2||Draw|
|West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur||0-1||Spurs|
|Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace||2-1||Arsenal|
Here's how the table looks after the first-day's events, followed by what these results might mean for the title race, as well as the battles for European qualification and against relegation:
|EPL Table After Opening Day|
|9||West Bromwich Albion||0||1||0||0||1|
|18||West Ham United||0||0||1||-1||0|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||0||0||1||-1||0|
Van Gaal Facing a Big Challenge
If Saturday's results proved anything, it's that there'll be no quick fixes at Old Trafford. Last season's seventh-placed finish can't all be attributed to the failings of previous manager David Moyes.
The reality is that Van Gaal has taken over a squad that was allowed to fall into decay during the final years of Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure. Underperforming fringe players were kept around for too long, as were ageing stars at key positions, such as in defence.
Now Van Gaal is facing up to the size of the challenge of restoring United's former glories. Henry Winter of The Telegraph believes it will take time for incumbent players and Van Gaal's methods to mesh:
United have employed one of the game's most celebrated and cerebral coaches but he will need time, money and his players, especially the English ones, to acquire a greater footballing intelligence, showing a better grasp of their craft and a tactical flexibility.
The 3-5-2 system deployed initially by Van Gaal requires total concentration from the centre-halves, who risk dangerous gaps between them, and out wide where the wing-backs have to be in constant communication with the centre-halves to track runners. It is a system that can be overloaded by opponents with wingers and full-backs like Swansea's.
Winter crafts a solid argument about footballing intelligence being in short supply in the English game. However, it's too simplistic to establish that as a root cause of United's woes.
The team simply needs better players in vital areas. The squad needs a credible focal point for the middle of its defence and still lacks guile in midfield.
But securing marquee new faces will be a challenge without the offer of UEFA Champions League football. This necessary recruitment drive is going to test the cache of Van Gaal's reputation and United's standing as one of the world's biggest clubs.
It's too early to write United off as a contender to finish in a prominent position in the final standings. However, it's not too soon to shelve thoughts of a quick revival under the experienced Van Gaal.
Ugly Win a Positive Sign for Arsenal
On the surface, labouring to an injury-time win over a team that just lost its manager and spent most of last season looking like a certainty for relegation isn't cause for much celebration.
However, an ugly, scrappy win actually bodes well for Arsenal. The perennially stylish Gunners don't usually do ugly and scrappy.
But their late turnaround from an early deficit is further proof of a united squad made of stronger stuff than some of the previous models. Goals from Laurent Koscielny and Ramsey cancelled out Brede Hangeland's opener, but this isn't the first time in recent memory this Arsenal team has managed to rally.
That's what manager Arsene Wenger's players did in last season's FA Cup final. Despite going down 2-0 to Hull, the Gunners stormed back to claim the trophy, thanks to three unanswered goals.
A similar show of defiance on the first day of the new season has some pundits believing Wenger's latest vintage is primed for a sustained title challenge. That's certainly the view of Sky Sports analyst Jamie Redknapp, who was speaking on Saturday Night Football following the opening-day win, via Sky Sports:
Arsenal weren’t at their best, let’s not kid ourselves, but it’s such a big result. This time last year they lost 3-1 to Aston Villa and there was a lot of doom and gloom. These results, when you’re not at your best and pick up three points are so important for momentum.
Goals are something Aaron Ramsey has added to his game. That’s confidence. When things are going your way you become like a magnet in the box. Every time the ball bounces he’s the person that it falls to. ...
I know there’s a lot of doubts about Arsenal, but if they can keep him fit and with people like Giroud and Ozil to come in and maybe one or two players before the window closes, then why can’t they mount a challenge?
Redknapp is right to point some of the qualities the current group possesses. However, greater assurance and pace with their passing, along with a win over another title contender, will serve as better indicators of Arsenal's chances.
For now, though, this is an excellent way to start.
The news is also good for Swansea and capable young manager Garry Monk. His team won't stay at the top of the table, but neither will it be a main player in this season's relegation scrap.
Leicester will, despite their creditable draw. On a similar note, things already look bleak for fellow newly promoted side QPR. A home fixture against Hull is the type of match manager Harry Redknapp would count on his side winning, as a start to the necessary strong home form Rangers will need to beat the drop.
The Premier League's opening day hasn't done much to alter the outlook for the competition's teams. The expected relegation candidates are clear, as are the potential title contenders.
United's early slip is the only real surprise. It's evidence of just how much work Van Gaal still needs to do.
For a contender such as Arsenal, the picture could became a lot clearer once Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea each play their first fixture. As fellow main contenders, Wenger will be keen to see just how much competition he faces for the top prize.
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