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Arsenal vs. Leicester was a terribly played and absolutely beautiful Premier League opener

Seven-goal thrillers beat perfectly executed soccer any day.

Arsenal v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s been nearly a decade since the Premier League was the best soccer league on earth. Year after year, its teams are shown up on the continent. But the unrestrained speed and ambition that Premier League teams play with is what makes the league the world’s most popular sports entertainment product, and that ethos was perfectly encapsulated in Friday’s league opener between Arsenal and Leicester City.

Arsenal’s record signing Alexandre Lacazette scored after just two minutes. Shinji Okazaki equalized two minutes after that. Leicester took the lead, then Arsenal equalized, then Leicester regained the lead. That inspired Arsene Wenger to make three crucial substitutions; all of the players who came off the bench contributed to the Gunners’ comeback and eventual 4-3 win.

The game was, by the standards of any coach or calcio connoisseur, bad soccer. Arsenal and Leicester were both truly amateurish in their set piece defending. But good soccer is boring; poorly executed, borderline unprofessional soccer is much more fun. And it doesn’t get any more fun than what we got to watch on Friday night.

What on earth is this Arsenal defense?

Wondering how the Gunners conceded three times at home? Once you see this lineup, it will not be surprising! Through a combination of factors — injuries, a suspension and bad transfer strategy — Arsenal fielded this defense on Friday night.

If you are unfamiliar with these players, Rob Holding is a young player with about half a season’s experience, Monreal is a left back who has played some emergency central defense, and Kolasinac is very much an attacking left wingback who has probably never played central defense in his life.

The result was bad spacing like this.

And bad set piece defending like this.

This defense, incredibly, got wackier in the second half. With Arsenal down a goal, Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, shifting into a back four in the process. With Holding coming off, that four-man defense featured no actual central defenders.

Arsenal somehow defended better after making this switch. Still, Wenger will be hoping he can play Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi next week.

The comeback was incredible.

Wenger’s substitutions were unorthodox, and his team looked doomed to get eaten up by Leicester’s potent counter-attack. A partnership of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey doesn’t do much to stop the ball in midfield, which could have been a huge problem with the defense behind them. Lacazette — the Gunners’ club-record signing who scored two minutes into his Premier League debut — was pushed to the left wing.

Against a Leicester team on top of its game, Arsenal probably would have been outplayed. But thankfully for Arsenal (and fans who had no dog in the fight), Week 1 is essentially an extension of preseason. And Leicester, like their opponent, was not ready to defend wave after wave of set pieces.

The equalizer came off a second ball in after a corner. Leicester defenders lost sight of Ramsey, who was left wide open thanks to a pick by his fellow substitute Theo Walcott.

Just two minutes later, the winner. Once again, someone scored from a corner. This one was a bit more conventional, and it came from Olivier Giroud, a man who scores a lot of these big late-game goals with his head despite constant criticism of his finishing.

Emirates Stadium erupted. The same fans who were mocking Arsene Wenger and booing bad touches just five minutes earlier were suddenly cheering louder than they had at any point in the previous season. From utter despair to optimism in the blink of an eye.

This game was the best the Premier League has to offer. It showcased why the highest level of soccer isn’t always the best soccer. And it was an absolutely perfect opening match.