Alexis Sanchez scored a hat-trick Saturday to snap his scoring drought and lead Arsenal past Leicester 5-2. The result snapped Leicester’s unbeaten streak and dumped them out of the top of the pack for the first time this season. With the win, Arsenal went fourth in the Premier League.
It was an explosive show from the Chilean star, who had struggled to get on the score sheet this season despite a series of influential performances for Arsenal. With his hat-trick, Alexis made sure that the league’s comeback kids would not recover today as they have so often this season at the expense of some of the best teams in England.
Leicester and Arsenal blazed out of the starting blocks, with both teams looking to spring the counter on the other. But it was the Foxes who made the best of the early play, with Danny Drinkwater and Shinji Okazaki combining early and often to force Petr Cech into a series of early stops.
Jeff Schlupp has the first legitimate chance of the match after only ten minutes, forcing Cech into a sprawling parry that immediately set Jamie Vardy up for a shot that he was unlucky to see carom back off the post.
Vardy was like a bull in a china shop, and would finally snag his goal three minutes later with a fine bit of individual play. At the other end, Aaron Ramsey was upended in the box, and with the Arsenal players asking ref Craig Pawson for the penalty, the ball was booted up the field down the far flank to Vardy. Settling the ball to his feet with a deft header, he was able to catch Hector Bellerin on the wrong side, and then fire home through Cech from an acute angle.
The goal sent the King Power crowd into ecstasy, and two minutes later, Vardy was unlucky not to double Leicester’s lead, again combining with Okazaki to rip a shot off the crossbar.
But that intervention would directly lead to Arsenal’s first goal of the day. Collecting the ball off the rebound, Arsenal strung together four passes and found Santi Cazorla in time and space. With a fine slotted pass through the heart of the back line, Cazorla teed up Theo Walcott to simply slot the ball past keeper Kasper Schmeichel to softly rebound in off the far post.
Things seemed to go south for Arsenal in the 20th when Mathieu Flamini, so influential in the Gunners’ midweek win over Tottenham in the League Cup, had to be removed injured for Mikel Arteta. But even with the Foxes immediately pressurizing the slower Arteta, they could not retake the lead, and soon Arsenal made them pay.
Alexis grabbed his first goal of the year off another power move down the far flank. Bellerin, a consistent provider on the day, was able to slip behind the Leicester back line and send in an inch-perfect cross for Walcott. But Walcott was cut out by Robert Huth, only to see the ball ricochet into the path of Alexis, unmarked at the far post. It was an easy tap-in, and it forced a rare smile out of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal came out after the break looking to put the game to bed. Alexis was set up well by Walcott, but Leicester were able to close him down, stifling the Chilean star’s shot from seven yards. Alexis was set free down the near side minutes later, and Huth was again the man on the spot to deflect the shot up and off the bar and out.
But Alexis would not be denied: Alexis ran a one-two with Mesut Ozil, and with the Leicester defense trying to close the German star down, Alexis ran through the pack. Ozil smartly flicked the ball over the defense, Alexis leapt and headed the ball softly over Schmeichel with a tasty move that silenced the home crowd.
While the pace of the game dipped, Arsenal’s attack continued to trouble Schmeichel. Ozil had a fine chance blocked away with the keeper sprawling, while Ramsey was unlucky to see his low strike accidentally redirected off frame by a rare misstep on the day from Walcott.
Alexis would then seal the win in the 81st with a sublime bit of play Collecting the ball off a throw-in, he chipped the ball past a tackle and then blasted the ball low and hard to the near post from 20 yards.
That set up a frenzied finish, with the Foxes trying to pull off what has become a nearly trademark Houdini act. Petr Cech was called upon to make a series of saves before Vardy collected his second with a minute to spare. Riyad Mahrez, who had a rare off day for Leicester, forced the efforts with a good recovery and scrabbling shot that Cech was only able to put out as far as Vardy, for an easy curler to the far post.
In garbage time, sub Olivier Giroud was able to sweep a goal in from seven yards off service from Nacho Monreal. That made the scoreline harsh on Leicester, but it was probably no less than Arsenal deserved for their dominance on the day.