By Mukwuzi Joseph
Social distancing in the Arsenal defense was too inviting for Romelu Lukaku.
Only 15 minutes into his second debut for Chelsea, Lukaku was gifted the space to run and sweep in the goal he’d waited almost a decade to score.
It was an opener — in a 2-0 win over Arsenal on Sunday — that exemplified the hold-up play, timing on the ball and final touches that the striker has finessed in his time away from Chelsea.
Even worse for Arsenal, the second consecutive loss at the start of the Premier League season came with pandemic capacity restrictions lifted at the Emirates Stadium for the first time in almost 18 months.
There was a lot for home fans to jeer their own side for — and boo they did — and so much to admire from the visitors from west London who so unexpectedly won the Champions League last season.
Even more terrifying for Chelsea’s opponents is having Lukaku to supplement an attack previously lacking a focal point with a scoring touch.
That was seen quickly in north London.
Lukaku held off center back Pablo Mari before laying the ball off to Mateo Kovacic. As the ball was sprayed out to James on the right flank, Lukaku powered his way into to the penalty area — brushing aside Mari with ease — to find the pocket of space to receive the pass centrally and tap in past goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Fortressed by James firing in a goal for himself in the 35th minute after being teed up by Mason Mount, Chelsea and Lukaku could cruise to a second straight win.
Only Leno’s fine finger-tip save denied Lukaku a second from a powerful late header.
It’s the threat that could help Chelsea to a first Premier League title since 2017.
All it took for owner Roman Abramovich was committing $135 million for a striker who was offloaded in 2014 after only playing 15 times in his three seasons at Chelsea, two of which were spent on loan, without ever scoring for the west London club.
At 28, Lukaku is more of a complete player than was last seen in the Premier League at Manchester United two years off, raising his game to lead Inter Milan to the Serie A title last season.
The Belgian is now the most expensive player for combined transfers in the history of the game at almost $400 million, based on fees paid by Everton, Manchester United, Inter Milan and now twice by Chelsea.
Arsenal, though, can hardly complain about having to face such a costly player. Mikel Arteta has just benefited from $175 million of investment in summer signings — more than any other team in Europe.