Arsenal endured a calamitous start to the Premier League season after conceding two penalties and having Laurent Koscielny dismissed in a 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa yesterday.
Christian Benteke was the architect of Villa’s shock win, scoring twice to puncture the pre-season optimism at the Emirates Stadium.
Olivier Giroud gave Arsenal a sixth-minute lead by clipping home a left-wing cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Benteke equalised in the 22nd minute. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was penalised for tripping Gabriel Agbonlahor and although he redeemed himself by parrying Benteke’s spot-kick, the Belgian striker reacted alertly to head in the rebound.
Spanish close-season signing Antonio Luna completed victory for Paul Lambert’s side with five minutes to play, running clear and coolly wrong-footing Szczesny.
Earlier, Simon Mignolet saved a last-gasp penalty to earn Liverpool a 1-0 win over Stoke City in the opening game of the new season at Anfield. The Belgian goalkeeper parried Jon Walters’ 89th-minute spot-kick and then brilliantly blocked Kenwyne Jones’ follow-up after Daniel Agger was penalised for handball.
The game was ultimately decided by a low 20-yard strike from Daniel Sturridge in the 37th minute.
“We bought Mignolet because he is a top, top goal-keeper and he had three saves to make in total,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Elsewhere, Roberto Martinez began his career as Everton manager by picking up a point from an entertaining 2-2 draw at Norwich City.
In another match, Rickie Lambert completed a memorable few days by snatching a 1-0 win for Southampton at West Bromwich Albion with a last-minute penalty at the Hawthorns.
Meanwhile, Cardiff City made a disappointing return to the top flight following a 51-year absence after goals from Joe Cole and Kevin Nolan saw them beaten 2-0 at West Ham United, while a 52nd-minute header by Pajtim Kasami gave Fulham a 1-0 win at Sunderland.
Mourinho ready for emotional Chelsea return
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho believes the Premier League title race will be more open than ever ahead of his long-awaited return in today’s season opener against Hull.
Mourinho will be back in the Stamford Bridge dug-out for the visit of Steve Bruce’s newly-promoted team, six years after he left the club following a glorious three-year reign.
“I believe the Premier League is stronger because there is a bigger number of teams who can fight for the title,” said Mourinho. “Probably stronger because there’s more balance. But I think, a few years ago, the better teams were better.”
Mourinho admits he expects an emotional reunion with Chelsea’s supporters and is planning to visit the stadium with his players 24 hours before kick-off.
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur will also open their campaign with a trip from north to south London to take on promoted Crystal Palace today.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2013.
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