With Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City all dropping points this weekend, Arsenal knew how important their game against Leicester City was.
Mikel Arteta’s men knew that with three points, they could break into the top four for the first time since the beginning of last season.
Arteta decided to keep things as simple as he could going into the match, with Eddie Nketiah dropping to the sub’s bench and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returning to the side, following the team’s 2-1 over Rapid Wien on Thursday night.
The added benefit for Arsenal was that Jamie Vardy, who specialises in goals-against Arsenal was to be but a substitute for Sunday night’s match.
The match started with a fairly decent showing from the home side. With little-to-no creativity in midfield, Arsenal opted instead for the long-ball tactics of David Luiz, whose inch-perfect passes seemed to unlock some of Arsenal’s best-attacking moves, most of which came through Kieran Tierney.
The Scottish international was able to whip a number of dangerous crosses into the box, but Arsenal seemed unwilling to meet them, chief culprit of which, was Alexandre Lacazette, who seemed to shy away from many of Arsenal’s more potent attacking threats.
That having been said, Lacazette did have the ball in the back of the net early on, however, the goal was ruled out as Granit Xhaka was deemed to have impeded the goalkeeper from an offside position. It seemed a harsh decision, but Arsenal were in the ascendancy and the chances came thick and fast, even if there was a distinct lack of end product.
Youngster Bukayo Saka looked to be the most enterprising of all the Arsenal attackers, frequently darting in between tackles and lunges and finding himself in different pockets of space to fashion chances, but Arsenal were unable to break the deadlock at half-time.
The second half was more of the same, but with distinctly less creativity, not aided by David Luiz’ sudden withdrawal with what looked distinctly like a hamstring issue, bringing Shkodran Mustafi back into the fold after several months out.
From there, the game seemed to allude Arsenal. Though they enjoyed good spells of possession, there was a distinct lack of creativity and Arsenal’s formidable forward line looked to be starved for possession or tangible chances.
Héctor Bellerín came the closest to scoring for Arsenal with an effort that was beaten away by Kasper Schmeichel, but that was to be it for Arsenal.
Eventually, Jamie Vardy was introduced and the air of inevitability sunk in around the empty Emirates Stadium and sure enough, it was Vardy who poked Leicester in front in a smash and grab job to give Leicester all three points.
The result will sting Arsenal for sure, but the result seemed to expose the undeniable flaws in Mikel Arteta’s tactical setup.
Despite having one of the best goal-scoring records in Europe, it still seems baffling that Mikel Arteta relegates captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out wide. The Gabonese forward seems to have little impact on the match in the new season and his usually formidable presence in the forward line grows tamer with each outing.
Today, the former Borussia Dortmund man was unable to produce much for his team and his knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time seems to have evaporated from his game. Arsenal fans will be hoping that their star man’s new contract does not prove to be an albatross around the club’s neck in the same way that Mesut Özil’s has proven to be.
With each week, Arteta’s men fail to create anything of significance and are often relying on individual mistakes or even sparks of individual brilliance, such as Nicolas Pépé’s outstanding winning goal in the home win over Sheffield United a few weeks earlier.
With Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos, Arsenal have plenty of creative juices flowing in midfield, and yet Arteta’s tactics seem to stifle any and all creativity from the team. Özil’s exclusion looks all the more frustrating for Arsenal fans as they continue to waste the potential of their front three.
Alexandre Lacazette looked distinctly off the pace in the match and seemed unwilling to include himself in the team’s overall attacks. The Frenchman has a tendency to drop deep in order to collect the ball and to hold up the ball for attacks, but his indirectness on Sunday night proved to be more of a hindrance than a help for the home side.
Despite the team’s poor second-half showing, there are still signs of encouragement. But for Vardy’s header Arsenal continue to look fairly solid defensively, with new boy Gabriel Magalhães looking to be a very shrewd signing by the Arsenal recruitment team.
Though Magalhães is perhaps not as adept at pinging fifty-yard passes straight to an attacker’s feet as David Luiz may be, the Brazilian still has a good range of passing on him, is good in the air and is no slouch in the pace department either. If Mikel Arteta can take anything positive from today’s performance, it’s that Magalhães seems to be something of a gem.
Attention now turns to the visit of Dundalk FC in the Europa League on Thursday night, which will then be followed by a trip to Manchester to face Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United at Old Trafford.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz (Mustafi (49’)
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney (Nketiah 81’)
8.) Dani Ceballos
18.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 65’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
28.) Joe Willock
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Leicester City team:
1.) Kasper Schmeichel
3.) Wesley Fofana
6.) Johnny Evans
28.) Christian Fuchs
27.) Timothy Castagne
8.) Youri Tielemans
24.) Nampalys Mendy
2.) James Justin
26.) Dennis Praet (Vardy 60’)
10.) James Maddison (Albrighton 85’)
15.) Harvey Barnes (Ünder 75’)
Leicester City bench:
12.) Danny Ward
5.) Wes Morgan
20.) Hamza Choudhury
11.) Marc Albrighton
19.) Cengiz Ünder
14.) Kelechi Iheanacho
9.) Jamie Vardy