Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Arsenal Brush Leicester Aside To Move Into The Top Four

The headline above is the one I wanted to go with despite having very little basis in fact after Arsenal did manage to beat Leicester last night. The manner of the victory was far from easy though and a gutsy Leicester team were very unlucky to get nothing out of the game. Arsenal did move into the top four though with United not playing until tonight and Spurs going down 3-2 to Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team which lost to Spurs on Saturday with Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott and Akexis Sanchez coming in for Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud. The omission of Giroud was a bit odd with no real focal point for the attack as a result and the ball not sticking from clearances when Arsenal were under pressure. I got my wish to see Mesut Ozil, Alexis and Walcott all starting a game together for the first time though and hoped to see some flowing attacking football.

It was Leicester who had the best of the opening exchanges and came close to scoring a couple of times before Arsenal got going. Yet again they found it too easy to get in on the right side of the Arsenal defence just as Spurs had on Saturday with Hector Bellerin being given very little help from Walcott this time. Besides the lack of help Bellerin got I thought he suffered positionally a few times and he clearly still has a lot to learn about playing at right back.

Arsenal were very fluid in their formation with Ozil and Alexis popping up all over the pitch and it was Ozil who was pulling the strings. He might have been playing wide on the left, but his best work was done when he came inside and picked out slide rule passes. Arsenal went close when Ozil set up Walcott and then he improvised beautifully to draw a fine save from the Leicester keeper. 

From the resulting corner Arsenal took the lead as Laurent Koscielny stroked the ball home from five yards out after finding loads of space to get on the end of Ozil's delivery. Arsenal looked better after that first goal and they passed the ball around with ease looking to find the opening to increase their lead. Leicester continued to cause them problems on the break though and came very close to equalising on a couple of occasions.

The second goal came only a few minutes before half time and I hoped it would be the one to break Leicester's resistance. Bellerin did very well to win the ball back near the halfway line and after a few quick passes Ozil let fly with a 25 yard powerfully swerving shot. The keeper could only knock the shot down and Walcott was on hand to finish first time into the far corner.

With half time approaching it was just what Arsenal needed and there was a promise of more to come in the second half. Alexis hadn't looked too good as he went off after taking a heavy knock to his knee and I was surprised to see him reappear after the break. He didn't last too long into the second half as he was replaced by Giroud and he didn't look too comfortable as he left the pitch.

The second half certainly didn't live up to expectations from an Arsenal point of view as Leicrster dominated proceedings and chances too. I can only remember Arsenal coming close once after some fine individual work from Santi Cazorla and the Leicester keeper made a smart save. 

At the other end Arsenal were eventually breached just after the hour mark and the goal had been coming for a while. Arsenal failed to clear their lines properly and Andrej Kramaric was on hand to finish from 15 yards out giving David Ospina no chance in the Arsenal goal. Both Kramaric and Riyad Mahrez gave the Arsenal defence problems all night long and could easily have added to Leicester's tally on numerous occasions.

There was a huge change in attitude from Arsenal after the break with everything happening too slowly for my liking which gave Leicester the upper hand. It looked to me like the players thought they had the game won at 2-0 and just couldn't get going again when Leicester got their goal back. There aren't too many teams at the foot of the table who have come to Arsenal over the years and made such a good game of it.

Even though Arsenal won I have to say I thought the referee had an awful game. He ignored a very heavy challenge on Alexis in the first half which should have resulted in an Arsenal penalty and which eventually led to his exit from the game in the second half. There was no yellow card for a foul on Cazorla when the player was hurt and it was in a very dangerous position too.

I just don't know what to say about his handling of the constant fouling of Ozil in the second half in particular. I know Ozil can stop when he thinks he has been fouled, but the referee just ignored one foul after another on him. It was as if he had made his mind up in advance that Ozil goes down too easily and he was determined to give him nothing unless it was as blatant as blatant can be. The Leicester left back eventually got a yellow card for fouling him, but that was on at least the third occasion he should have been booked.

At least Arsenal won the game although there was a cost as Ramsey went off with another hamsting injury soon after coming on to replace Walcott. There's no word on the injury to Alexis either or whether he is even injured, but he didn't look comfortable once he took that early knock and probably should have come off a lot earlier. Hopefully he will be OK for the next league game in 10 days, but I would be surprised if he played a part in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough on Sunday.

The three points last night were very welcome even if it wasn't the most polished performance to get them. With Spurs losing to Liverpool it meant Arsenal go two points clear of Spurs again and keep the three point gap to Liverpool. There was a stage in the game where they looked like they could even go third in the table as they needed to win by three goals to do so, but I was just happy to see them win in the end.

The chances are they will drop back to fifth after tonight's games, but they have at least put pressure on both Southampton and United before they play. United have to win at home to Burnley to overtake Arsenal while Southampton will only drop back behind Arsenal if they lose by two goals or more at home to West Ham. I won't be holding my breath hoping for either result, but they're both certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility either.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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