Romelu Lukaku returned to the Premier League with a bang as he inspired Chelsea to an outstanding 2-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. On the day he made his second debut for Chelsea, it took the $135 million player just 15 minutes to open his account, holding the ball up smartly and spinning into space to meet Reece James’ cutback.
Lukaku’s mere presence seemed to provoke panic in the Arsenal backline, which had been dragged right across the pitch when James darted in on the right corner of the box to thump a second goal into the net.
Though Arsenal struggled to establish themselves for most of the first half there were flashes, many of them inspired by Emile Smith Rowe. Bukayo Saka was denied a penalty when Reece James appeared to have hold of him whilst early in the second half Rob Holding flicked an unmarked header wide from six yards out.
Still Lukaku looked like he might score whenever the ball came his way and it took a stunning 77th-minute save from Bernd Leno to deny him a second. The win gives Chelsea two wins in as many tries on the young season, while Arsenal still sit at zero points through two games.
Lukaku rips Arsenal apart
Lukaku could scarcely have wished for a better start to his second spell in English football, nor for more hospitable opponents. His goal typified every excellent trait that makes him such an awkward player to deal with. Just outside the box the Belgian posted up Pablo Mari, holding possession before playing the ball off to Mateo Kovacic and immediately spinning him.
Mari was too slow in his reaction, too easily overawed as he tumbled to the ground. All James had to do was roll the ball across the face of goal for Lukaku, up and running 15 minutes into his second spell with Chelsea.
Where was Kieran Tierney, the left back who ought to have been defending the flank? He seemed to be so preoccupied with the likelihood of Lukaku beating Mari that he moved infield unnecessarily. With Bukayo Saka curiously reluctant to track back almost half the right flank was left unguarded. It was from there that both first-half goals came.
Lukaku was in his opponents’ heads. Having failed to get any joy in physical duels with him and knowing he lacked the pace to drop off and let him run, Mari opted to deal with his man by foul means instead. The Spaniard might have felt he was imposing himself on his man, all he was actually doing was adding the high wire element of a yellow card to his doomed battle. To his credit Mari improved notably in the second half, finding something approximating a sweet spot where he was neither too close nor too far. The damage was long since done though.
Still Mari was not alone in allowing his game to be warped by Chelsea’s new signing. For the second Xhaka was so desperate to stop the ball going to Lukaku that he dived in and missed the tackle. Tierney was both waiting for the Chelsea No. 9 and distracted by Mason Mount, whose positioning infield kept asking awkward questions of the Arsenal left back. With Saka nowhere to be seen the flank was open for James, whose thunderous drive across the face of goal was far beyond Leno.