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Premier League Match Report: Arsenal 2 - 0 Leicester City

Let’s hope we’re just focusing on the Europa Conference League...

Arsenal v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Leicester City suffered a deserved 2-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday evening. A first-half strike from Thomas Partey and an Alexandre Lacazette penalty in the second half doomed the Foxes to their first defeat in March and ended a streak of three straight clean sheets.

There’s a fine line between cynicism and realism.

Perhaps signalling that the Foxes were prioritising their historic Europa Conference League run over the league, manager Brendan Rodgers chose to rest a couple of his key players from Thursday’s lineup: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Ricardo Pereira, Daniel Amartey, Çağlar Söyüncü, Luke Thomas, James Maddison, Nampalys Mendy, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho.

Arsenal started brighter, attacking down both flanks as the City struggled to win possession and even more so to keep it. Saka and Martinelli were threats on balls over the top from the opening whistle although the defensive pairing did well to keep the ball away from the goalmouth.

That all changed when the Gunners won their first corner on ten minutes. It was a simple ball to the near post and it found Thomas Partey loosely surrounded by four Foxes. He rose unopposed and glanced the ball inside the unattended post and into the back of the net. One shot, one goal.

City slowly awakened from their slumber and started to get a little time on the ball. Dewsbury-Hall played a ball over the top to find Barnes’ diagonal run. His first touch wasn’t great and Leicester had to settle for a corner. A couple of minutes later, a Thomas cross was cleared as far as Madders who looked certain to score, but a perfectly-timed challenge from Ben White took it off of him.

Arsenal v Leicester City - Premier League
Raise your hand if you feel the same way.
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The Foxes went so close to equalising on 35’ from a corner of all things. Albrighton swing in a ball left-footed that found Barnes six yards out. He glanced it goalward but Aaron Ramsdale made a fine reaction save to push it wide when it looked as though the ball would find the back of the net.

The Foxes ended the half on the front foot, which is nice from an aesthetic standpoint, but it meant nothing in terms of the scoreline as City went into the tunnel down 1-0.

The first ten minutes of the second half were all about handballs. It started in truly bizarre fashion, as a cross towards Granit Xhaka was overhit and the Switzerland international reached up to collect it. Unfortunately for him, the ball was still in play when he did so. City were awarded a free kick but, inexplicably, the intentional handball wasn’t punished with any further sanction.

Arsenal v Leicester City - Premier League
Not a lot of photos of Mendy making his first start in over a year, so this one will have to do.
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Just minutes later, the Gunners won a free kick on their left. It caused chaos in the Leicester box and bounced up to find Partey, who headed goalward. The ball cleared off the line by Thomas, but VAR spotted a possible infraction. The ball came off Cags’ fingertips less than a foot from Partey’s head. There was obviously no intent, but because his arm was extended as he changed direction, it was given as a penalty. Lacazette buried it and doubled the lead.

Why even bother with VAR?

Feeling they had the referee in their pocket, the Arsenal players took to play-acting to try to draw cards. In the first half, Gabriel spent a full five minutes on the pitch after Iheanacho had brushed his face, winning a yellow in the process. White attempted the same thing on 70’ but, in spite of his laying motionless on the pitch, failed to win the red card he was aiming for.

Rodgers, having earlier withdrawn Ricardo and Mendy for James Justin and Wilfred Ndidi, took Iheanacho off to try to avoid a second yellow. Patson Daka came on to salvage something in the final twenty minutes. He almost had an immediate impact as he chased a ball over the top with space in front of him, but he was clattered down from behind and the chance was lost.

The rest of the match was scrappy, a little out of control, and fruitless at both ends of the pitch. Both sides were frustrated and there were some poor challenges but neither keeper was involved in any significant way as the match was already settled.

The penalty call ended the match and, while I understand that “it had to be given,” it was desperately harsh on Cags. There was no intent, he was right next to the ball when it was struck, and the deflection was so slight you couldn’t see it unless you were watching in super-slow motion. It did nothing to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity. Sometimes the rules are just stupid, even if they are the rules.

Not that we were likely to get anything from the match anyway: We had six shots, only three on target, and only one that troubled Ramsdale. That’s simply not enough, especially against a lineup featuring a former Southampton defender in the back four. Arsenal’s midfield did a number on us today and I won’t suggest that 2-0 was anything but just.

Did I say “just”? I meant “slightly flattering.”

The defeat leaves us 12th on the table with 33 points from 26 matches. We remain 12 points from the final spot in Europe and 11 from the relegation zone. Speaking of Europe, our next match on Thursday is the second leg of our historic Europa Conference League round of 16 affair against Stade Rennes. We return to Premier League action one week from today, squaring off against Brentford at the King Power.