Leicester City 2 – 5 Arsenal
1 – 0 Vardy (12)
1 – 1 Walcott (18)
1 – 2 Sanchez (33)
1 – 3 Sanchez (57)
1 – 4 Sanchez (81)
2 – 4 Vardy (88)
2 – 5 Giroud (90+2)
An emphatic victory which might have quite easily ended in defeat. Already trailing to Vardy’s twelfth-minute opener, the ball bounced against the woodwork. Sixty seconds later, instead of doubling their lead, Leicester had been pegged back and from that moment on, there was genuinely only one team who was going to win.
And quite comfortable it turned out to be. Arsenal, not rock-solid in defence, were inventive and fluid in attack with the triumverate of Cazorla, Özil, Sanchez supporting Theo Walcott, freeing the England striker to produce his best central striking performance for the club. We knew of his pace but he combined it with intelligent movement that stretched Leicester’s defence time and again throughout his eighty minutes on the pitch.
The equaliser summed that up. Breaking at pace, Walcott’s run latched onto Cazorla’s pass as it caressed the turf toward into Theo’s path. Leicester claimed offside, it was marginal and needs video technology to assess; the sort of decision which infuriates when you are on the receiving end.
The afternoon was topped off in second half injury time when Olivier Giroud netted his third of the season, joining Sanchez and Walcott as joint top scorers. Is it the weight lifted off his shoulders? Who knows, we can but hope. Ten minutes isn’t much to go by but Giroud seemed to adapt quickly to the pace of the game, something you need a substitute to do.
His finish was excellent, the sort that Giroud thrives on. Almost instinctive from that position but one which has gone begging in recent weeks. A sign of things to come? I think we will find out against Olympiakos as Wenger rotates the side ahead of United.
Alexis garnered the headlines with his hat-trick, drawing praise from Claudio Ranieri for his performance,
When he plays at this level he is an amazing player and can do everything. The ball and him are both together.
A hat-trick brings you that kind of praise but for the first time this season, things came together in ninety minutes for the Chilean. Passes zipped to the their destination with precision and his mind was alive to opportunities, encapsulated with his second as he nipped behind a static defence to head Özil’s chip past Schmeichel.
All three of his goals were well-taken in their own right. The first had the poachers instinct, taking the space at the back post as Walcott dragged the defence toward the ball. His second displayed more courage; Özil’s was the sort of chipped pass which lures the ‘keeper off his line and invites a collision if the recipients timing is off. The third was just a confident finish, taken from distance and kept low.
All three were the sorts of goals we expect a player of his calibre to score. All three are the sorts of chances he has been missing so far this season.
Wenger was equally as effusive, labelling Sanchez, “World Class”. It’s always a term to easily bandied around but it’s all relative. There is a dearth of consistently talented performers at the moment and Sanchez is easily among the best in the world. Compared to previous eras? That’s not so easy but then looking back tends to bring a romanticised version of the player of the time. In becoming the 100th player to score a hat-trick for Arsenal and the first for a couple of decades to score one in Italy, Spain and England marks him out as a special at the very least.
There were areas of concern, or rather the defensive side of the performance needs working on. Part of that was the absence of Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini stepped into his shoes for twenty minutes. His hamstring twanged and Mikel Arteta came on. Neither provided the barrier Mertesacker and Koscielny is used to and Arsenal rocked for a few minutes, never quite convincingly dealing with Leicester’s early pressure.
Vardy’s opening goal gave them momentum in the same way Walcott and Sanchez’s strikes did for Arsenal. Indeed, once the second went in, Arsenal were able to put their hosts on the back foot, mindful that the counter-attack might – and would – bring further punishment.
His second was equally poor to concede. There was too little pressure on him as he took control of the ball. Inside the penalty area, Vardy should not have been afforded the time to pick out a precise finish into the corner. Arsenal have got to work harder at closing space down. Even with a three-goal lead, they can’t afford to switch off; it just makes their lives unnecessarily harder for the remainder of the match.
Coquelin’s absence may yet be short-term but with Flamini suffering an injury, I hope that Wenger exercises caution in bringing back the younger Frenchman. Arsenal ought to be able to win on Wednesday without Coquelin and of the two matches remaining before the international break, the visit of United to The Emirates next weekend is by far the more important.
For a couple of hours, Tottenham supporters were able to enjoy leading Arsenal in the table. Quick to post on social media, “Mind the gap“, they had their time in the fun. The final whistle restored the world to an even keel. Arsenal were above them once more in the table and the performance hinted at a return to form generally. The key is now to prove that it wasn’t a one-off but is genuine.