Arsenal bounce back from derby loss with nervy win over Leicester City
First half goals from Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott helped Arsenal return to the winner's circle after defeating Leicester City 2-1 at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
For the Gunners, this wasn’t quite the routine win that might have been expected. For the Foxes, it was very much a routine defeat.
As so often this season, Leicester played well in patches, but was undone by misfortune and defensive laxity. With the other two sides who began the day in the bottom-three both winning, this felt like a defining night for the away side, which is now five points from safety. Arsenal, without being anything like its best, was comfortable by halftime and, after Saturday’s set-back against Tottenham climbed back into the top four.
Nigel Pearson was still in charge of Leicester despite widespread reports on Sunday that he’d been sacked following a touchline spat with James McArthur in which he seemed to grab the Crystal Palace midfielder by the throat. Slightly surprisingly, he selected the new Croatian signing Andrej Kramaric at center-forward, despite suggesting at the weekend that he was too light as yet for the Premier League and hinting that the signing hadn’t been made at his instigation. Kramaric was a classy but slightly ineffectual presence, more than once jinking to create room and shaping a ball into space, only to realize none of his teammates had read his intentions. He did, though score his first goal for the club just after the hour.
Leicester started in a 5-4-1 formation, which suggested a defensive approach, but there was something contradictory about its early play. On the one hand it was quite happy to waste time, and yet there was also a sprightliness about its early play. It very nearly took the lead after 14 minutes as Esteban Cambiasso’s chipped ball found Riyad Mahrez breaking down the left. His shot went through the legs of David Ospina, but across goal and just wide of the far post.
That’s been typical of Leicester so far this season. It’s frequently played well, only to be undone by a seemingly irremediable laxity at the back. Arsenal was far from its fluent best and, although Mark Schwarzer had blocked one Walcott effort with his chest after fine approach work from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, it hadn’t created anything further when Ozil’s quick feet and jabbed shot was pushed wide by the Australian goalkeeper. From the resulting corner, Sanchez should probably have been penalized for a shove on Konchesky that cleared space -- evidence perhaps that Arsenal has begun to work on set-plays -- but Wes Morgan lost Laurent Koscielny and the French centerback volleyed in from close range.
Leicester came again. Mahrez headed a Paul Konchesky cross just over and then curled an effort just wide. Arsenal looked vaguely rattled -- and promptly went 2-0 up as Walcott crashed in the rebound, his third goal in his last three starts, after Ozil’s initial shot had been parried. It was the sixth goal Ozil had either scored or assisted in his last four games.
Kramaric drew a fine low save from Ospina and then beat the keeper with the follow-up only for Per Mertesacker to head over from almost on the goal-line and, as Arsenal, feeling it should have had a free-kick when Konchesky collapsed on the ball, struggled to clear the corner, Kramaric fired in. Suddenly there was life in a game that had seemed settled. Mahrez, darting in from the right curled an effort just wide. It was all very Arsenal: Whatever defensive solidity had been hinted at in the 2-0 win at Manchester City and the two subsequent league wins to nil vanished. This wasn’t quite the panic of the 3-3 draw against Anderlecht, but neither was it the sort of commanding display that a UEFA Champions League qualifier should be able to effect against the division’s bottom side. Even worse, it lost Aaron Ramsey to what appeared to be a hamstring injury minutes after he came on as a substitute.
Kamaric perhaps tried to be too clever when clean through on goal and scooped a shot into Ospina’s hands, but even with Fernando Ulloa and David Nugent joining the Croatian in the final minutes, an equalizer eluded it.
In another season, in another context, Leicester might look back on this and see plenty if positives to be drawn. As it is, time is running out and patience is wearing out with the constant hard-luck stories. There comes a time when points, however they are obtained, mean more than performances. Sunderland proved last season that such deficits can be overcome, but the gap is such now that it would take something remarkable for Leicester to survive; what that means for Pearson’s job is anyone’s guess.
Arsenal, meanwhile, was grateful enough in the end simply to survive after sleep-walking through the second half.