Leicester City fell to table-topping Arsenal by a score of 1-0 at the King Power on Saturday morning. The Foxes defended well to keep it goalless in the first half, but they couldn’t muster anything in attack after Gabriel Martinelli gave the Gunners the lead early in the second period.
In case you were wondering what a Leicester City starting XI would look like should Youri Tielemans and James Maddison depart this summer, manager Brendan Rodgers gave you a glimpse today. Madders didn’t make the squad on account of a knee problem, and Youri was only deemed fit enough for the bench. The lineup: Danny Ward, Timothy Castagne, Harry Souttar, Wout Faes, Victor Kristiansen, Wilfred Ndidi (C), Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Tete, Dennis Praet, Harvey Barnes, and Kelechi Iheanacho.
The opening quarter of the match had all the urgency of...something that doesn’t have much urgency. The Gunners didn’t just boss possession, they scarcely allowed the Foxes to get a boot anywhere near it. The City defence was extremely deep and passive, but it did the job: The hosts managed a handful of shots from distance but nothing on-target. At the other end, the grass barely got mussed. Even when Leicester got forward, they wound up going all the way back to Ward for him to hoof it back to the visitors.
Arsenal thought they’d taken the lead with the first shot on target of the match. Ward barely got a glove to the cross and his clearance only went as far as the edge of the area. Leandro Trossard picked it up, drifted inside, and buried it in the far corner. VAR took a look and, when you saw the replay, it was pretty clear that Ben White was holding Ward’s arm, preventing him from making a clean clearance, and the goal was ruled out.
Moments later, Iheanacho received the ball in an offside position, but the flag stayed down. He bore down on goal with only Aaron Ramsdale and chipped the ball over the keeper into the back of the net. Then the flag went up, and there was no need for VAR to look as the Seniorman was, as previously mentioned, well offside.
The pattern of play we saw in at the start of the match resumed to the deee-lite of absolutely nobody. Arsenal camped out in the Leicester half, got it wide to Gabriel Martinelli, and then saw it come to nothing. The Foxes broke into the Arsenal half, saw the move bog down, went backwards, and then gave the ball away.
That was it for the half: A half of football that will go into the history books as having “happened” and little else. The Foxes managed precisely zero shots and this was a pretty accurate representation of our attacking ambition. I’m watching the “highlights” reel as we speak and an image of a sky above the port, the colour of a television tuned to a dead channel might have been more interesting.
Rodgers made no changes to start the second half and, unsurprisingly, the run of play didn’t change...except when it did. Martinelli had been the worst player in the first half, but he gave the visitors a deserved lead almost immediately after the restart. He latched on to Trossard’s ball and drifted inside to slot past Ward.
Things continued in much the same fashion, which is a pretty great demonstration of inertia, isn’t it? If you don’t make any changes, nothing will change. Anyway, with his charges still yet to have taken a shot, Rodgers made a double change on the hour mark. Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy came on for Iheanacho and Tete, with KDH moving into the #10 role and Praet going to the right wing.
On 72’ Dewsbury-Hall tried his luck from distance, putting a a raking wide. This is worthy of note as it was the first Leicester City shot of the match. I kid, but this did mark the start of Leicester’s first period of extended possession and (almost) pressure. Rodgers saw this and made yet another double change, withdrawing Praet and Ndidi for Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare. This presumably led to a change in shape, maybe a 4-3-3? Sure, we’ll go with 4-3-3.
With five minutes of regular time left, Rodgers made his final throw of the dice, introducing Ricardo Pereira for Castagne. Almost immediately, Tielemans won a towering header over Xhaka and landed awkwardly on his ankle. He was struggling, but there were no more substitutions left. To add insult to injury, Youri was whistled for fouling the Switzerland man even though it was one of the rare cases where a City player hadn’t actually been the one committing a foul.
The Foxes pressed hard to the death and, when they left themselves open, Faes and Souttar defended heroically, but in the end, they couldn’t make anything happen. KDH’s long-range effort was our only shot, and when that’s your only shot, you have not shot at all.
If that were a pre-season affair, there would be a lot of good to take from it. The Leicester back line look very strong, and Ndidi was probably our best player prior to his departure from the pitch. Of course, the fact that Wilf was our best player is a sign that there was a lot of defending to be done. The midfield struggled and the attackers were as isolated as the scoreline suggested. I’ll say this: Even though it was a very disappointing performance and a thoroughly deserved result, this was one of the best performances by a City back line I’ve seen in a long time. We have something to build from.
Leicester created 0.01(xG) against Arsenal today - the lowest xG in a Premier League match since we began this account.— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) February 25, 2023
This 100% squares with my subjective take on the match.
That’s fortunate, as the defeat leaves us on 24 points from 24 matches. We’re 14th on the table, but only 3 points above the drop. The technical term for our current position is “precarious.” But, we’re halfway through this stretch of playing four of the big six in five matches, so things should get better. In fact, in the immediate future, they do! We host Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday in the FA Cup, and then we travel to the coast to face Southampton next Saturday.