This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
Hark! Dost thou hear the sound of angelic trumpets? That is the Lord's choir, who doth herald the coming of the Premier League. Look, thee, to the heavens, and behold their sweet and cherubic faces. There, amongst the clouds, are the saintly features of Alan Shearer, and the venerable Wrighty, and Danny Murphy in all his holiness. There, foremost amongst them, wreathed in his golden halo, is the harbinger of Premier League football, the divine Gary Lineker.
Wait a fucking minute – is he in his pants?
GARY LINEKER AND THE PORTAL OF HELL
So, to our first port of call on the great voyage through the new Premier League season. In case anyone failed to notice, Gary Lineker opened Match of the Day in his pants. He promised to present the programme in only his kecks if his beloved Leicester won the title last term, and he delivered on that promise by donning a pair of billowing white boxers and standing self-consciously in front of his fellow pundits with his nipples out. What ensued was an awkward and riveting 15 minutes of television, punctuated at intervals by references to it being 'cold in here' and so on, all of which added to the sense that this was a very British form of bullying in which a crowd of people gang up on a single individual, jeer at them until they strip down to their undies and then ridicule their nakedness, all in the spirit of extremely cruel fun.
Ian Wright's reaction says it all, really. He is delighted, ecstatic even, that his colleague is having to present Match of the Day in his pants. Lineker is one wardrobe malfunction away from flashing his knackers on national television, and Wrighty could not be more amused by the situation if he tried. Even Alan Shearer is laughing, though he looks quietly uncomfortable about male nudity in the workplace like any good, stoic Yorkshireman should.
The thing is, Wrighty and Shearer do not seem to realise the full significance of Lineker's nakedness. While he may be the Premier League's guardian angel, his pants have opened a swirling portal of hell in the Match of the Day studio. If the contemporary state of football banter dictates that we can force Gary Lineker to go on telly in his boxer shorts, then what comes next for the nation's pundits? Are we going to coerce Martin Keown into wearing a thong for an hour, because he's got his season predictions wrong? Are we going to browbeat Robbie Savage into getting his bollocks out, because we don't like his post-match assessment of Everton vs. Hull? If things keep going the way they're going, Match of the Day is going to be a fleshpot of scrotums, willies and post-match analysis, like Dante's Inferno for middle-aged former footballers.
In a world where Gary Lineker has to do Match of the Day in his pants, the future is truly diabolical. We're having premonitions of Wrighty being bullied into doing a naked cartwheel in the studio, because he's mispronounced 'Granit Xhaka'. Oh Lord, what have we done.
FOOTBALL LEAGUE SHOW REDUX
While things are getting ugly over on Match of the Day, there's been a beautiful development on its sister production, the aptly named Match of the Day 2. Manish Bhasin has returned to the BBC's football fold, and will be presenting the show for the rest of the season. You will, of course, remember Bhasin from his work on the Football League Show, otherwise known as literally the best football highlights programme on the fucking planet.
Though it was given a late-night slot which, admittedly, very few people bothered to stay up for, the Football League Show was simply sublime. Bhasin would usually be joined by Steve Claridge, Mark Bright or Leroy Rosenior, who would proceed to spend an hour and a half breezing through a load of lower-league goal fests with the odd shin-splintering tackle thrown in for a laugh. Together, they would tease exquisite tales out of the Football League, making heroes of Exeter City and villains of Dagenham and Redbridge, martyrs of Wycombe Wanderers and saints of Leyton Orient. They would gather up the shining narrative threads of the second, third and fourth tiers of English football, and weave them together into a tapestry of profound emotion and deep artistic merit.
While he has now left the lower-leagues behind him, we can only hope that Manish brings some of that same narrative wonderment to the top flight. Plus, he could invite some of his former guests back into the studio. Someone give Phil Brown's agent a ring, he's going to be over the bloody moon.
AS IS OUR CONFIDENCE, SO IS OUR CAPACITY
Coming to actual football matters, then, we should probably start with Arsenal's complete and utter shitshow against Liverpool. Despite going 1-0 up early in the first half, Arsene Wenger's side seemed painfully nervous and jittery from the start. Theo Walcott won a penalty, missed a penalty, scored immediately afterwards and then spent the rest of the half meandering around The Emirates like a lost dog walker, hence epitomising his entire career over the course of 45 minutes. In the meantime, the team gradually shrank into themselves, and paved the way for an absolute demolition in the second half.
While Liverpool played with genuine sparkle – all four of their goals were seriously flash – there was a sense of inevitability to proceedings. The home side looked low on confidence, and their performance reflected the lack of self-belief. Few observers will be surprised by this, considering that Arsenal have been devoid of confidence in the transfer market over the last couple of months. This has left the fans lacking faith, the matchday atmosphere replete with tension and the squad lacking conviction, as was so conspicuous on Sunday. It's almost as if Arsenal's failure to implement a coherent transfer strategy has had a knock-on effect, or something.
While confidence wins titles – see Leicester last season – a lack of confidence sees a team go 4-1 down after 63 minutes in their first home fixture of the season. While Arsenal had the opportunity to make a statement of intent this summer, they have instead made it painfully apparent that they have little chance of competing with their main rivals.
There was deafening booing at The Emirates after 63 minutes of the new season. That has to be a record time for mass disillusionment, even for Arsenal.
Though there are some who are happy to hail Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a deity after his very first game in the Premier League, the truth of the matter is that his transfer could still go one of two ways. While Manchester United nabbed him on a free transfer, his astronomical wage packet means that he's hardly a cheap date. At 34 years of age, it's yet to be seen whether he'll tear things up this season or end up an expensive and misplaced gamble come May.
Nonetheless, first impressions have been promising. Zlatan certainly tore through Bournemouth on Sunday afternoon, and stamped his unmistakable authority on the game.
While his late strike past Artur Boruc was the pick of the goals as far as United were concerned, Zlatan brings much more to the table than goalscoring ability. He has a monumental ego, a gargantuan personality and a genuine aura, which together act as a powerful magnet for attention on the pitch. His mere presence seems to be enough to create space for his teammates, as Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial can happily attest. Having both struggled at times last season, United's front men played with remarkable freedom with Zlatan at their side. Bournemouth's defenders were iron filings to Ibrahimovic's magnetic personality, leaving his fellow forwards with nothing standing in their way.
Zlatan is the undeniable centre of attention at the moment, and it suits United to keep him that way. He's a magnetic force both on and off the pitch. That's what confidence gets you, see.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
With Fantasy Football back on the agenda in workplaces and social circles across the land, guesswork as to this season's winners and losers is at peak intensity. None of us want to fuck up our squad picks ahead of the season, lest our friends and workmates discover our essential ignorance of the football. Office bods up and down the land are frantically searching Reddit for original team names, before giving up and settling on 'Pique Blinders', or 'Lallanas in Pyjamas'. It is absolutely necessary that they do not finish in the bottom half of their work league, lest they be loaded with the weight of social stigma forevermore.
As such, the majority of people wanted their big players to perform on the opening weekend. Most of us have guys like Joe Hart, Harry Kane and Alexis Sanchez in our squads, not Salomon Rondon, Etienne Capoue and Leroy Fer. Unfortunately, this was a weekend of unsung heroes, with mid-table bit-part jobsworths producing the performances of their lives. Somewhere out there, there is a footballing hipster who captained Adama Diomande and vice captained Nathan Redmond ahead of the start of the season. He is the happiest man in Britain right now, and has a healthy lead at the summit of the 'Costa Coffee Leighton Buzzard' barista league.
With Hull beating Leicester this weekend and several other unfancied sides doing well, it was a good opening weekend for the teams tipped to struggle. For the rest of us, it was a fucking nightmare. Thanks for nothing, Robert Snodgrass.