Well, well, who could have foreseen this, No Saka, No Aubameyang, and a gifted early goal to the hosts, yet, Arsenal ran away 1-3 victors against Leicester City with a side that looked decidedly eclectic but Arteta had a plan, even if it wasn’t the one we all imagined.
Willian, Pepe, and Elneny on the same side? Was Arteta trying to tell us something about the remainder of this campaign? Had he given up?
In my pre-match blog, I said that this game was entirely winnable and even predicted a 0-2 win for the Gunners which resulted in mass mocking on social media. I posted “Call me daft but I think we’ll sort out Leicester today”. I was labelled daft by an assortment of Debbie downers that are only happy if they are truly miserable.
Many didn’t give us a chance, although some kept the faith including football commentator, writer, pod panellist, and columnist Malina Birch. Vardy & Co had been on a fine run recently and with the kick-off just moments away, the stomach muscles tightened and the pulse rate increased. Doubt was starting to tap me on the shoulder but I wasn’t about to give anyone the satisfaction of deleting the comment on such a fabulously sunny Sunday in late February.
Who would have thought that what I outlined previously in the earlier blog that morning was even remotely possible, I may have been somewhat drunk on optimism when I wrote:
“Defeat here isn’t an option, Arsenal need to start gathering points with some testing games ahead, yet the odds favour the in-form Leicester City and that’s exactly why I’m going to suggest it’s winnable.”
“It’s no secret that Leicester go through phases in a season, at times resembling challengers and on others also-rans. It’s high time they resembled the latter.
However, this won’t happen unless every single player in the Arsenal side is on the same page and are prepared to scrap it out for a full 90 minutes.”
Arsenal pulled off the win against Leicester City with real aplomb conceding after just 6 minutes with the Gunners defence half asleep. Youri Tielemans managed to rob Xhaka on the left and he surged forward unopposed before releasing a hard low shot past Leno and suddenly, the contest looked very familiar in scoreline and tone.
Arsenal appeared shocked but tried to get back on terms while Leicester City looked like they were just going to sponge up the pressure and hit on the counter with a long-range punt to Jamie Vardy as per usual. Not that you could blame Leicester for that, it’s been an incredibly successful game plan up until now.
Gradually, Arsenal sensed that Leicester City minus Maddison looked a little too content and comfortable and when David Luiz popped up to power in a header from a wicked Willian free-kick (39), one sensed that the tide was turning. The boys from Brazil had got Arsenal back on terms and the hosts began to look very vulnerable indeed and slightly baffled, this wasn’t in the script.
Whatever Arteta has been working on with Willian and Pepe in training resulted in both looking like new players, especially Willian, who was full of purpose and intent. Not since the Fulham game has the Brazilian looked so bright and suddenly, he resembled the player he was every week in the blue shirt of Chelsea.
Xhaka, Odegaard and Willian all played their part as Pepe finished off this brilliant Arsenal counter-attack vs Leicester ? pic.twitter.com/yIxnIdMtJt
— Goal Africa (@GoalAfrica) March 1, 2021
He’ll have to maintain that form because he’s under threat on the left from Aubameyang, Martinelli, and Pepe, with Saka almost a permanent fixture on the right, but he will do his chances no harm with performances like this. As for Pepe, I’ve felt that he has been building up to this performance over his last three or four games and he was up for this extremely important contest.
Lacazette, who thought he had won a penalty in the 12th minute by forcing himself between Ndidi and Tielemans only to see VAR rule it out, finally got his reward (45+1) after Ndidi handled in the area from a curving Pepe effort. Lacazette punched the ball into the net and the tables had well and truly turned.
Xhaka connected with Odegaard for the final flourish (52) with an acute defence-splitting pass that looked like it had too much on it, but Willian poked it back for Pepe to tuck in and that was that.
Brendan Rodgers has a growing list of injuries but let’s give Arsenal credit here, they battled hard, showing tenacity and hunger, bullying their way to three points and they can now look ahead to Burnley, possibly without Smith Rowe who picked up a muscle injury. On the plus side, Partey put in a cameo back from another injury, Ceballos is in reserve and Odegaard is warming up for a bigger role, showing glimpses of real class.
Make no mistake, this was a fantastic team performance and although it’s hard to pick a MOTM between Willian and Pepe, we should mention Mari who sat on Jamie Vardy and didn’t give him the room to get going. He even kept pace with the lightning-quick poacher and extinguished his rhythm which very few could have predicted.
Onwards boys, onwards.