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Match Report: Arsenal 3 - 1 Leicester City

City fail to hold an early lead against rampant Gunners

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manager Claude Puel rolled the dice as Foxes lined up in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation. The absence of Wes Morgan forced the gaffer into a change at the back, with Jonny Evans joining Harry Maguire and Daniel Amartey in a back three. The midfield five featured Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell on the wings, Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy in the holding roles, and James Maddison in the hole behind strikers Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy.

The match started relatively well for the visitors in that we saw out the first ten minutes without conceding or even looking as though we might. The Gunners bossed the early possession but Leicester were comfortable absorbing the pressure and looking to hit on the break.

As per usual, City grew into the match and began to probe what looked like a suspect Arsenal back four. Rob Holding picked up an early yellow for a foul on Maddison. Maguire should have found the back of the net when he lost his marker on the ensuing free kick and had a free header that Bernd Leno did well to turn behind for a corner.

Holding then got away with what can only be called a “hand of God” style of hand ball defending a corner. Had the referee been paying attention, it would have been a penalty, a second yellow, and an uphill battle for the hosts. Alas, it went unpunished and, as you can probably guess assuming you read the headline of this report, the missed call had a massive impact on the result.

The Foxes finally got their deserved goal on the half hour mark when Chilwell lost Hector Bellerin on the wing, cut inside, lost Bellerin yet again, and, fired a cross-shot towards the goal mouth, only for the ball to strike the Spaniard's heel, wrong-footing Leno and bouncing into the back of the net. It was ruled an own goal, which is only what the Spain fullback deserves, but Chilwell really should get credit for that one.

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League
The goal celebration, however, is not something for which he should receive credit.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

City could have hand another shortly afterwards when Ricardo showed great skill on the right flank and fired in an inviting cross that just eluded the onrushing Vardy. At this point, City could, and perhaps should, have put the game to bed, up by three goals and Arsenal down a man.

Instead, the Gunners started to find their feet and began to put sustained pressure on the Leicester defense. City were under the cosh and finally conceded right before the half-time whistle. Mesut Ozil played a lovely give-and-go on the right side and his first time shot turned off the inside of the far post and into the back of the net. Half-time score: Arsenal 1 - 1 Leicester City.

The second half started in much the same way the first one ended, which was not especially good news for the Foxes. Arsenal were camped in the City half, threatening every time they touched the ball for the first 25 minutes or so. Leicester couldn’t get a touch on the ball, let alone mount anything resembling a threat.

And yet, against the run of play, the first real chance of the second period fell to Leicester. Once again, Leicester’s size advantage left Arsenal scrambling to defend a set piece. A Maddison outswinger left Leno flailing as Ndidi rose to meet the ball, but his header smashed off the bar and to safety.

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League
So close to seeing an Ndidi goal celebration, which is the most joyous thing in football.
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Even worse, this near-miss woke up the Gunners, who had several more gears at their disposal and they used them to devastating effect, scoring twice in five minutes. Arsenal boss Unai Emery sent on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the ineffective Henrikh Mkhitarayan (whose parents seemed to really love superfluous “h”s) and his impact was as immediate as it was devastating.

Leicester City v Arsenal - Premier League
Reasonable chance I could have found the target from that range. No guarantee, though.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The first Aubameyang goal saw City’s defense carved open far too easily, as Ozil found a Bellerin run behind the Leicester defense. The full back’s low cross to the back post was met by the onrushing Gabon international whose first touch found the back of the net. The second was an unstoppable, frankly beautiful, team goal that I won’t try to describe. Go watch the highlights. I won’t link them here because I have some pride, but it’s well worth a watch.

Puel sent on Marc Albrighton and Rachid Ghezzal for Iheanacho and Ricardo in an attempt to stem the tide. It worked in the sense that Arsenal didn’t score another goal, but the run of play continued and Leicester seldom looked like getting back into the match. Shinji Okazaki was introduced for the tiring Maddison, but even his legendary energy wasn’t sufficient to make any difference. The more City pressed forward, the more it looked as though Arsenal would extend their lead.

In some ways, this match was a dark mirror of the Everton defeat way back before the international break (if you can remember back that far). Leicester looked the more likely in that match until a second yellow against Morgan turned the match on its head. Had the referee seen what everyone else had seen and issued Holding his marching orders, things may well have ended differently. He didn’t, and they didn’t. C’est la vie.

Tactically, it was a fascinating match to watch because Puel’s change of formation did seem to be having its desired effected. Leicester were getting down the wings with ease and Maddison was proving to be more than the Arsenal defense could handle. A more clinical Leicester side could have had a considerable lead at the half even without the referee getting it right. The equaliser right before the whistle was a real momentum killer and, after that, it looked as though there would be only one winner.

The defeat drops the Foxes to 11th on table, the first time we’ve been in the bottom half since the opening day defeat. Our next match is in just five days, at home to 14th-placed West Ham. Wes Morgan will miss the next match due to suspension, opening the door for a possible debut by summer signing Çağlar Söyüncü, who made the bench for the first time this evening.