Leicester City 1 Arsenal 3
Sunday 28th February 2021, 12 noon
Both sides played away (even if Arsenal were technically at home) in Europe on Thursday, so there was no advantage in terms of recovery time to either side.
Nevertheless, Arteta’s ringing the changes suggested that Champions League qualification through winning a European trophy remains his priority. The ten outfield players only saw four retained from the dramatic win against Benfica. And the attack would have drawn groans from the fans, with panto villains Willian and Pepe started either side of Alexandre Lacazette, with Emile Smith Rowe behind.
What can be said of the opening goal in the sixth minute? Who to point the finger at? Xhaka for losing possession initially, Mari for his decision to go with Jamie Vardy and allow Tielemans a free run into the area? David Luiz for not informing Mari he had Vardy covered? Elneny for not getting back fast enough to assist Mari? Bernd Leno for not saving the shot across his goal? Mari’s mistake looked the worst – like he was simply backing off. Caught in two minds, the lack of understanding with his partner made him look a very poor defender indeed. It's enough to drive you to drink. Or a bet. Mind you I certainly wouldn't have bet on Xhaka stopping Tielemans, but if you are interested in a bet then why not try the Sporting Bet Promotional Code - it's great value. Either way the Leicester goal was a shambles all round though. With the eleven on the field, and Vardy’s history of finding the net against Arsenal, I feared the worst after going a goal down so early.
Still, salvation came in the unlikely form of Pepe, who drew foul after foul from Leicester’s young left back, and almost won a penalty driving into the area, only to be denied by VAR, with the award being downgraded to a free kick. Willian took it and tried to get the ball to his best mate David Luiz. It came to nothing, but next time around, things were considerably improved – after another foul on Pepe.
It must be said that overall, Arsenal’s attacking showed promise, with some danger provided by Tierney and Smith Rowe on the by-line being foiled by blocks. Arsenal were threatening though. The equalizer came from another Willian free kick, but this time Luiz found space and planted a header past Kasper Scheichel. It was a goal of beauty and simplicity. And something of a relief after that early gift to Leicester.
Things were to get even better when a Pepe shot – heading for Row Z – struck Ndidi’s arm, missed by the referee, but spotted by VAR. I had memories of the Leicester keeper’s father saving a spot-kick from Dennis Bergkamp in 1999, but fortunately, it was not a case of like father like son as Alex Lacazette put his side ahead in first half injury time. Minutes had been added on partly due to an unfortunate injury to Emile Smith Rowe, although his replacement Odegaard would play a significant role in settling the game.
Arteta has tried to protect Smith Rowe by not overplaying him – often bringing him off with a quarter of the game remaining, but nevertheless, the suspicion is that he picked up a soft tissue injury due to fatigue. Arsenal weren’t the only ones to suffer the loss of key men due to injury. James Madison did not even start, and may not appear again this season, whilst during the second half, Harvey Barnes and Jonny Evans both exited with injuries. Even if Arsenal were far from full strength, they were aided by the Foxes’ loss of players weakening them before and during the game.
We didn’t have to wait for too long after the re-start for Arsenal to establish a more comfortable lead, as Pepe made a run to the area and passed to Odegaard. He slipped in Willian whose ball across the face of the goal allowed Pepe to tap in. It was a well-worked move, the kind that have rarely come off so often this season. God alone knows how Pepe and Willian suddenly started playing so well. Where has this been all season? Were Leicester simply that poor?
Some amusement from a couple of regular correspondents.
Ian Henry: I must say I find the BT commentator nauseating
Me: I am immune to “Fletch” now. Mind you, I needed two injectionsIan: I am past being cured of BT comvid 21
And from Doktor Schneide…
Was busy with my online meeting with fellow free minded citizens discussing the menace of alien reptilian elite infiltration into all branches of world government, when my son came in and told me Willian had been awarded MOTM. I mean, do I look gullible?
So an enjoyable three points, valid questions about where the good play of Pepe and Willian has been all season, and of course a new chapter in the Arsenal book of how not to defend.
But hey, it was nice to win at Leicester, or even against Leicester. The previous four Premier League matches against the Foxes had seen a total of one point for Arsenal.
It feels like further evidence of inconsistency rather than the start of some kind of run now though. Arteta could finish with Europa League qualification if his team can climb to the lofty heights of seventh place. But they will have to stop giving away the kind of cheap goals we have seen all too often lately if they are to manage that.
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