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Premier League Match Report: Arsenal 1 - 1 Leicester City

Both sides will feel fortunate; both sides will feel agrieved

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

Leicester City and Arsenal fought to an eventful 1-1 draw on a rainy Tuesday at the Emirates. The Premier League’s #2 goal-scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, gave the hosts a first half lead. After Edward Nketiah was sent off before touching the ball, the Premier League’s leading goal-scorer, Jamie Vardy, leveled for the Foxes. In addition to the goals scored, the match saw a goal incorrectly chalked off, several brilliant saves, and VAR-a-plenty.

It was a lot.

Manager Brendan Rodgers made only one change to the lineup that ran out comfortable winners against Crystal Palace over the weekend, inserting Ryan Bennett for the injured Ben Chilwell. Kasper Schmeichel remained in goal behind a back three of Bennett, Jonny Evans, and Çağlar Söyüncü. Marc Abrighton and James Justin provided width as wing backs, flanking a midfield pairing of Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans. Ayoze Perez lined up as a #10, slotting in behind strikers Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy. As always, take the starting formation with a grain of salt as Rodgers isn’t always completely forthcoming as to how the side will line up.

The match took ten minutes to pick up any momentum. A light drizzle was falling at the Emirates and the pass was a little scrappy because of it. Leicester carved out the first real chance of the match from a well-worked corner routine. Albrighton tapped the ball to Ayoze, who gave it back to the former Villa man. He pulled it back for Iheanacho who was all alone on the penalty spot. His low drive was goal-bound, but Emiliano Martinez did well to get a leg to it and keep it out.

That was the last Leicester highlight for some time.

The Foxes were struggling to get on the ball and maintain their shape and Arsenal were finding far too much space in the Leicester half. After several near-misses, the breakthrough came with almost ridiculous ease. Dani Ceballos sent a long, low ball down the middle that released Bukayo Saka behind the Foxes’ defense. The London native rolled the ball across the box to meet Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s run, leaving the Gabon international the simplest of finishes.

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League
This is the one Kasper couldn’t save. It could have been a lot worse.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Rather than marking the end of the pressure, it only increased after the goal. Time and again, the Gunners tore the Leicester defense apart. Schmeichel was forced to make quality saves on shots from Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, and Hector Bellerin in rapid succession. Leicester were up against the ropes and it looked as though Arsenal were about to break the game wide open.

It was very much against the run of play, then, that Leicester had the ball in the back of the net just after the half hour mark. Vardy got away on the left and sent in a curling cross that Iheanacho met unmarked in the six yard box and turned into the back of the net. It should have been a leveler, but the linesman waited until after the goal to flag for a foul by the Nigeria striker. The replays made it clear that Sead Kolasinac initiated the contact and then threw himself to the ground, but that’s not the sort of call that VAR can overturn.

The half fizzled out after that, with a few head injuries, a lot of knocking the ball around and no shots. Funny half: Leicester were lucky to only be down by one goal, but they were also unfortunate not to have leveled.

Rodgers was apparently pleased enough with what he saw in the first half to send the same XI out to start the second. He was definitely in the minority in this assessment. In fairness, the Foxes started the half well. Once again, Vardy found space on the left. He shaped to cross and then pulled it back for Justin. His close range effort cannoned off of David Luiz, off of Kieran Tierney’s arm, and out to safety.

The Foxes absolutely deserved an equalizer on 55’. Ndidi won the ball in midfield and found Vardy on the right this time. The former England man swung in a cross that found Iheanacho 14 yards out and completely unmarked. The former Manchester City man went for the volley and struck it well, but Martinez did well to get down and keep it out.

Rodgers decided to make his first roll of the dice on 59’ minutes, withdrawing Iheanacho and Albrighton and sending on Harvey Barnes and Christian Fuchs. The formation may have been unchanged; it was awfully hard be sure since Perez, Justin, and Bennett were all getting forward on the right. The Foxes were absolutely dominating possession but were being limited to half-chances, the best of which was a Perez cross that fell kindly for Vardy, but he couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and the chance was lost.

Lacazette got the ball in the net for the hosts right before the water break, but the flag went up and his finger-wagging was in vain as VAR confirmed the offside decision. Arsenal were now engaging in a little time-wasting, waiting until the after the break to make a double-substitution. Areta brought on Edward Nketiah, whose first action was to go into Justin studs first just below the knee. VAR took an extended look at it and then referee Chris Kavanagh took a look for about three seconds, turned around, and presented the red card.

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Oh sure, we could have started with the referee checking the replay and saved a lot of time, but what fun is that?
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Rodgers, sensing an equalizer or more, took off Bennett in favor of Demarai Gray before the free kick. Schmeichel took the kick and decided to shoot from midfield. You might describe it as “cheeky”, although “wasteful” would be better. Speaking of “wasteful”, Barnes flicked the ball over the top to Vardy, who rounded the keeper and fired it into the side netting. He was millimetres offside anyway, so it wouldn’t have counted.

With Arsenal pinned back in their own area, Rodgers took off Ndidi for the more offensive-minded Dennis Praet. The Foxes were knocking it around the outside of the hosts’ box without any particular urgency. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Gray found an angle and sent a diagonal ball across the box. Perez stretched for it but it rolled to Vardy and he smashed it in from close range. VAR spent approximately half an hour trying to determine if Vardy was offside from the original ball, or if Perez had touched it and Vardy was behind the ball. He wasn’t offside, and he was behind the ball if Perez touched it, so the goal stood, and Leicester were level.

City had 8 minutes of stoppage time to try to find the winner. Arsenal came out of their shell and actually pressed the Foxes back into their own area for fully half the time on the ball. Leicester managed to carve out a decent chat at the death; a lovely Fuchs cross was gathered by Gray and laid back for Praet, but the Belgium man fired over when he needed to hit the target.

A 1-1 draw was probably just about right for this one. Leicester were unfortunate to have a good goal ruled out in the first half, but we were equally fortunate not to have been buried by an absolutely rampant Gunners front 3. The Premier League’s top goal scorers both got a goal and both keepers had very strong games. I think in this case, we have to be at least grudgingly happy with the point.

I really do miss Alan...

For me, the standout performers were at either end of the pitch. Schmeichel kept us in the match, and Vardy was brilliant as provider and gave the lively Iheanacho several opportunities. Evans and Söyüncü both did well after a shaky spell and Justin had one of his better games in a Leicester shirt at both ends of the pitch.

The draw, combined with Chelsea’s victory earlier today, drops the Foxes to 4th on the table with 59 points from 34 matches. Our lead over Manchester United for the last Champions League spot is 4 points and the Mancunians have a game in hand. This is going to be tight, friends. We travel to the Vitality this Sunday to face Bournemouth and then host Sheffield United the following Thursday.