The state of Arsenal football club meant that I went into this game full of neither hope nor expectation. I was at the fixture two years earlier, in what turned out to be Arsene Wenger’s final defeat, and we were beaten comfortably that evening. Since then, Leicester City have improved hugely, whilst Arsenal have lost their way- identity, style, organisation- all words which can be applied to the Foxes but are the opposite of what the Gunners regularly offer their fans. Despite a couple of golden chances for Alexandre Lacazette, Leicester looked completely comfortable for large swathes of the game, and fully deserved to walk away with all three points.
Usually, when the team news is announced, I have sit down for five minutes to fully comprehend the lunacy that is Unai Emery’s selection policy. Maybe this week I was resigned to losing, a fact evident by my captaining of Jamie Vardy in my fantasy team. The side named gave me a glimmer of hope; although I do not like Arsenal playing with a back three, I approved on this occasion as it would hopefully offer greater solidity. It was clear that Emery was set-up not to lose, and to hopefully nick a goal, effectively playing with 7 outfield players behind the ball. At the same time, he relied on the trio of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to nick a goal.
I had just one complaint about the side, and that was that Nicolas Pepe had been dropped in favour of Alexandre Lacazette. I love Lacazette, but it is clear that he is still not fully fit or at match sharpness. I knew that we would be playing with wide-forwards, as we did at Anfield, and therefore would have rather had the more mobile Ivorian starting. A minor change however, and the side was set up far better than I feared it would be.
The Match Itself:
If Arsenal’s strategy had not been clear from the selection, it was apparent in the opening minutes. Mesut Ozil was deployed as a false no.9/10, often the furthest forward Arsenal player. Lacazette and Aubameyang are two strikers who are lethal in partnership. At the King Power, however, they effectively operated as wide forwards, often tracking back to support their wing-backs. This had been somewhat effective against Liverpool, and with Leicester’s attacking full-backs, it threatened to bear fruit again here. Lucas Torreira was tasked with man-marking Leicester creative hub James Maddison, whilst David Luiz was given Jamie Vardy duties.
Arsenal’s split between the defensive ‘bloc’ of 7, and their attacking trio resulted in a end-to-end game. Leicester dominated the ball but the early chances fell to the away side, with Lacazette spurning two glorious chances, curling the first wide before shooting straight at Kasper Schmeichel. Everything Arsenal did well came through Mesut Ozil, which forces me to further question why he was ever dropped from the side. At the other end, Calum Chambers made a vital block at the back post to deny Jamie Vardy a certain goal, whilst Harvey Barnes miscued a header when perfectly positioned.
The second half saw Leicester’s influence on the game grow, and Wilfried Ndidi managed to hit the bar from twelve yards out. Almost inevitably however, Jamie Vardy opened the scoring, capping off a fine team move which involved a backheel and a nutmeg. Pure playground antics and the sign of a side really enjoying their football at the moment.
This 68th minute blow was one which Arsenal failed to recover, and it seemed as though the side threw in the towel. as more and more chances began to fall Leicester’s way. It came as no surprise then, as James Maddison doubled the Foxes’ lead in the 75th minute with a shot from outside the box. Arsenal nervously saw out the final few minutes, very much in damage limitation mode, and the score ended 0-2.
First of all, I would like to credit Leicester City. I was almost completely resigned to defeat before the game, and that was as much a testament to the strength of their side as the poor management of ours. I would argue that they have the third best starting XI in the Premier League, which is playing in a system that brings out the best in each of them. They undoubtedly have areas to improve, they lack quality out wide and neither centre-back is world-class, but they are a side that plays attacking, exciting football and who are honestly a joy to watch this season. Both goals were moments of quality, which honestly Leicester shouldn’t have needed to resort to, such was their grip on the game. I was thoroughly impressed.
As for Arsenal, questions continue to be asked. I can defend Emery to some extent in this fixture, but I think this is only because he has lowered my expectations so drastically through poor, insipid performances. A victory would have provided a false dawn, and papered over the significant cracks which exist. There were signs of improvement, but in all honesty it was not an Arsenal-style performance. What concerns me the most is the various outlets that are reporting Emery is 100% safe in his job. Even if he were, telling him that he is surely makes him more comfortable, and less desperate to get results. It screams confusion. One thing is for sure though; results need to change, and change fast.