Leicester City closed out the 2017/2018 home schedules in style with a 3-1 win over Arsenal. The Foxes made it more difficult than necessary, struggling to make their man advantage over the final seventy-five minutes of the match count. The scoreline looked a good deal more comfortable than it felt, but given that this was our first home win since January, we’ll take it.
The home side went ahead just before the quarter-hour. After enduring several attacks where the north Londoners cut through the defense to easily but failed to find the final ball, Leicester started to push the visitors back and won a corner. Arsenal tried to play the ball out of the back and gave the ball back. It fell to Christian Fuchs on the wing, who sent a high cross to the back post. Fousenni Diabate stretched to head it back to Kelechi Iheanacho, who smashed it first time under a diving Petr Cech.
The Gunners were reduced to 10 men only a minute later when Iheanacho knocked a ball behind Konstantinos Mavropanos with only Cech to beat. The defender pulled down the Nigeria international and left the referee no choice at all. Arsene Wenger withdrew Danny Welbeck and brought on Shkodran Mustafi to shore up the defense.
Anyone who says that red cards ruin matches really ought to watch the highlights of this one. The rest of the half was marked by waves of Leicester attacks followed by swift counters from their opponents. It was thrilling stuff, and both sides will feel they should have scored one or two more by the break.
Claude Puel’s men came out for the second half with a little less energy and urgency to start the second half and, at times, it was difficult to tell which team was playing a man down. Eldin Jakupovic, making his Leicester debut, looked strong and confident in goal and saved us from conceding with several excellent saves. One of those saves led to Arsenal drawing level.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles beat Diabate on the left wing and put in a low cross that found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the middle of the area. Aubameyang’s snap shot was well saved by Jakupovic, but the Gabon man was the first to the rebound and smashed the ball into to the top of the net.
On 72’, Puel sent on Demarai Gray in place of the impressive Diabate to try to restore the lead. After only two minutes on the pitch, Gray won a soft but certainly defensible penalty when Henrikh Mkhitaryan clattered into the former Birmingham City man’s knee. Jamie Vardy, with his most Jamie-Vardy-intense-face, sent Cech the wrong way with an absolutely unstoppable blast.
The game opened up again as Arsenal searched for an equalizer and created a few worrying chances. It would be Leicester who found the next goal. Hamza Choudhury, who is improving with every match, pinged a long ball behind the stretched defense and found Riyad Mahrez alone on the right side of the area. Mahrez made no mistake, bending a shot with his left for into the far corner.
Just as there have been almost no positives from the last few matches, there were very few negatives this evening. Both forwards worked hard and saw a lot of the ball. Diabate had what I think was his best performance in a Leicester shirt, with plenty of quickness both on and off the ball. Mahrez looked more like his old self, Adrien Silva was solid and Choudhury looks like he could be something special. The defense wasn’t as solid as we’d have liked, but they certainly looked better, and Japukovic looked good enough that I’m disappointed we haven’t seen him before today.
I’d like to close with a quick note thanking Arsene Wenger for, well, being Arsene Wenger. Younger fans may not remember that, prior to the Frenchman’s arrival, Arsenal were one of the most physical, negative, and boring sides in England. More than anyone else, he brought continental players and ideas into the mainstream in England. He’s one of the true greats. But I’m not sorry at all that his last trip to Leicester ended in our first victory over him in league play.
One more to go. Does this win change anyone’s mind about whether or not Puel should remain in charge? Stay tuned...I’d wager we’ll be discussing that one after the season finale at Spurs.