Following their narrow escape against Benfica in mid-week, Arsenal entered Sunday’s match with Leicester with a mixture of apprehension and tiredness.
Given the close proximity to Thursday’s match, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was forced to make changes to his side, which saw a drastic and somewhat controversial lineup change.
Cédric Soares came in for the out-of-form Héctor Bellerín, Pablo Marí came in for an absent Gabriel Magalhães, Mohamed Elneny replaced the hapless Dani Ceballos, Willian took the place of Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka was switched out in favour of Nicolas Pépé and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was switched out for Alexandre Lacazette.
Given Arsenal’s poor run of results in the Premier League whenever they follow up a European excursion, Arsenal fans were noticeably apprehensive, but the early signs showed that Arsenal looked to be more in control of the game than Leicester, who had had European exploits of their own to contend with.
However, despite Arsenal’s overall dominance in the early minutes, it was, predictably, Leicester who took the lead. A misunderstanding on the halfway line between Granit Xhaka and Willian allowed exciting Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans to grab the ball. The midfielder began to run unimpeded towards the goal. While Pablo Marí tracked back to cover Jamie Vardy, Mohamed Elneny did the same, leaving Tielemans’ path clear, who fired home a difficult shot which gave the home side the lead.
It was the same kind of lackadaisical defending that Arsenal fans have come to expect down the years and it would have served as no surprise to see Leicester wheeling away in celebration.
Arsenal’s fortunes looked as though they may take a swift upsurge after Tielemans was deemed to have brought Nicolas Pépé down in the penalty area, though a VAR check soon ended hopes of an upsurge as the decision was overturned for a free-kick instead.
Despite the VAR overturning the decision, it was a warning sign to Leicester that Arsenal were going to continue to oppose them and sure enough, Arsenal found themselves back on level terms after Willian’s delightful free-kick found the head of former Chelsea teaate David Luiz who headed home the equaliser.
From there, Arsenal began to really dictate play and it was just before half-time that Pépé’s somewhat hopeful shot smashed into the hand of Wilfried Ndidi. There could be no mistake this time and not even the harshest of VAR assistants could have denied Arsenal a penalty here. The decision was upheld and captain-for-the-day Alexandre Lacazette promptly dispatched it into the left-hand corner, sending Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way.
Half-time was a welcome affair for Leicester and also gave Arsenal time to fully prepare Martin Ødegaard who replaced Emile Smith Rowe just before the break.
The second-half was pretty much more of the same from Arsenal, who really began to take the game to Leicester City. Jamie Vardy, so often the torn in Arsenal’s side and so usually active, was regularly beaten to the punch by Pablo Marí, which gave Arsenal heart.
A Leicester corner led to a swift and devastating Arsenal counter-attack. Granit Xhaka fed Pépé who raced forward and picked out Martin Ødegaard, the Norwegian played through Willian who was able to squeeze a pass through for Pépé who tapped home the final go of the game to deal a hammer-blow to Leicester.
The ret of the match passed without incident except for substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot glancing centimetres wide at the end.
The final whistle blew on a glorious afternoon for Arsenal. It was safe to say that they were far from the favourites before the match and given the hapless way that they had fallen behind so early on, it was a remarkable performance from the team to turn things around.
One of the many bright sparks of the team today was Willian. So often the man who endures groans from the fans watching at home and so very rarely turning in a particularly enjoyable performance, Sunday’s performance was a glimpse of the undoubted quality he still posses. He was quick to every pass, eager to win it back, sharp to notice his teammates and his two assists were a great return for a great performance.
Nicolas Pépé shpuld also be commended for his performance. Though it had looked early on that youngster Luke Thomas had potentially pocketed the Ivory Coast winger, Pépé soon began to grow in confidence and his positive play was enough to win Arsenal the initial but eventually overturned penalty. His goal was a an indictment on the performance he turned in, with the intelligence to pick out Ødegaard and then be in the right place at the right time to receive Willian’s pass.
The whole team can be happy with their performance. It can be tough to keep up such a high press, especially after a near calamity in mid-week, but Arsenal stepped up. The team’s high press and their tendency to “hunt in packs” forced Leicester into some costly errors and often gave Arsenal a glimmer of yet more chances.
Mikel Arteta and his side can enjoy a brief break before their next game, an away trip to Burnley, but they will take comfort from their first win at the King Power Stadium since 2015.
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 66’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 42’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Aubameyang 84’)
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
2.) Héctor Bellerín
18.) Thomas Partey
8.) Dani Ceballos
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Leicester City team:
1.) Kasper Schmeichel (c)
27.) Timothy Castagne
6.) Jonny Evans (Amartey 69’)
4.) Çağlar Söyüncü
33.) Luke Thomas (Albrighton 45’)
21.) Ricardo Pereira
25.) Wilfried Ndidi
8.) Youri Tielemans
15.) Ashley Barnes (Ünder 51’)
14.) Kelechi Iheanacho
9.) Jamie Vardy
Leicester City subs:
12.) Danny Ward
18.) Daniel Amartey
46.) Vontae Daley-Campbell
28.) Christian Fuchs
24.) Nampalys Mendy
20.) Hamza Choudhury
50.) Sidnei Tavares
11.) Marc Albrighton
19.) Cengiz Ünder