Between now and the end of the season, every game that Arsenal will play will be the equivalent of a cup final. Having been dumped out of all other actual cup competitions and the constantly circling presence of both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal have got to treat every single game as a must-win affair.
It is therefore unsurprising that Mikel Arteta named an unchanged side for the visit of Leicester City from the team that beat Watford 2-3. The only difference was that Emile Smith Rowe returned to the squad, following a bout of COVID-19. Though Takehiro Tomiyasu remains out.
It was a funny start to the game for Arsenal. Leicester closed Arsenal down well, but the home side were able to play through their press with relative ease, with Martin Ødegaard unsurprisingly pulling the strings for most of the team’s attacks.
However, it was a set-piece that Arsenal benefitted from for the opening goal. Having already exploited Leicester’s weaknesses from set-pieces earlier in the season, it wasn’t too surprising to see Nicolas Jover’s set-piece tactics take shape once more.
A front-post cross from Gabriel Martinelli’s corner was met by Thomas Partey, who’s header flew past Kasper Schmeichel and into the net to give Arsenal the lead.
Leicester continued to fight back and, for brief periods of the first-half, they looked increasingly likely that they would score. It seemed as though Arsenal knew that they needed another goal or two in the second half to settle the nerves.
The second half saw Arsenal reclaim more control over their opponents. Though Leicester looked to make inroads through both Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka were too hard to pass in midfield.
Eventually, Arsenal had their chance for s second. A lengthy VAR check on a potential handball from defender Çağlar Söyüncü led to a penalty being given and a chance for Arsenal to double their lead. A stuttering run-up from the captain, Alexandre Lacazette put the result firmly in Arsenal’s control, despite Kasper Schmeichel’s protestations.
From there, Arsenal never really looked out of control. One or two chances followed, including a very good effort from substitute Emile Smith Rowe, which he tried to curl Thierry Henry-esque into the far corner, but was well-saved by Schmeichel.
The final whistle blew and confirmed that Arsenal had reclaimed their place in 4th in the league table.
It was a consummate performance. Not the greatest seen by Arsenal this season, but it felt like things had finally clunked into place with Mikel Arteta’s side. The free-flowing attacking football reminiscent of Arsène Wenger was a sign of just how good Arsenal have become in the past few months.
As seems to be the case every week, Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard were at the heart of all things creative about Arsenal. The latter of the two seemed to drift through the game in an eerily similar imitation of Mesut Özil at his pomp, drifting between the spaces, creating chances and passing with a certainty and purpose that had Leicester on strings. Saka, meanwhile, wreaked havoc on the flanks, as Leicester had to double up to accommodate for his unique dribbling skills, allowing space for Ødegaard to drift into space.
It was also another typically professional performance from Alexandre Lacazette. Though the Frenchman doesn’t have the goalscoring credentials that other Premier League talismans have, his role in the team has become more and more important each and every week. Happy to provide an assist when needed or to drop into the midfield to help his teammates out, the Frenchman has looked electric for a while now.
Lacazette was essential to the shape of Arsenal’s press as well. In the first half, when Gabriel Martinelli sprinted forward in one of his trademark displays of a high-press, Lacazette dropped to the flank to cover his compatriot. Though Mikel Arteta will have no doubt told him to do so, it was a testament to the Frenchman’s organisation and a clear indicator of just how much he is prepared to help his teammates out.
It was another good game for Thomas Partey as well. The Ghanian was essential in sniffing out Leicester attacks and his partnership with Granit Xhaka seems to be growing every single week. The former Atlético Madrid midfielder broke up attacks, picked his passes well and was richly rewarded with a fantastic header at the front post to open the scoring.
Now, Arsenal face their first really big test. A visit from Liverpool does not have the same worries that it would have done if the club were not a point clear of Manchester United with 3 games-in-hand or 6 points clear of Tottenham, but Arsenal will need to dig deep to get anything out of Wednesday’s game.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares
4.) Benjamin White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 85)
8.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli ( Smith Rowe 78’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Nketiah 88’)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
69.) Zak Swanson
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Leicester City team:
1.) Kasper Schmeichel
21.) Ricardo Pereira (Justin 61’)
18.) Daniel Amartey
4.) Çağlar Söyüncü
33.) Luke Thomas
24.) Nampalys Mendy (Ndidi 61’)
22.) Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
11.) Marc Albrighton
10.) James Maddison
7.) Harvey Barnes
14.) Kelechi Ihenacho (Daka 74’)
Leicester City subs:
35.) Eldin Jakupovic
2.) James Justin
23.) Jannik Vestergaard
25.) Wilfred Ndidi
20.) Hamza Choudhury
8.) Youri Tielemens
17.) Ayoze Pérez
37.) Ademola Lookman
29.) Patson Daka