Foxes repelled as assertive Arsenal move into the top four
Arsenal 2 Leicester City 0
Julian Taylor at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal moved into the cherished top four of the Premier League with a deserved victory over Leicester City at the Emirates.
The Gunners are now fourth in the table, a point above Manchester United with a game in hand, with all their unbeaten momentum of late coming at precisely the right time.
Midfielder Thomas Partey set the north Londoners on the way early on when it looked like Brendan Rodgers’ men were poised to be comprehensively blazed off the park, before Alexandre Lacazette added a second from a controversial penalty award in the second half.
Unfortunately for Leicester, they found Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale in imperious form and, other than the occasional isolated movement, their lack of firepower was all too evident. How the Foxes missed talisman and forager-in-chief, Jamie Vardy, here.
Still, the organisation, athleticism and drive on offer by the Gunners was mightily impressive, and it will be interesting to see just how far manager Mikel Arteta can lead his charges as the business end of the season approaches.
Arsenal saw off relegation-threatened Watford at Vicarage Road last week and, in Leicester, sitting 12th after winning their previous couple of league games against Leeds and Burnley, it was presumed the challenge would be somewhat testier.
Nevertheless the proverbial ‘fox hunt’ began in earnest from kick off with an unchanged Gunners’ line up asserting themselves without delay, pressing Rodgers’ team along the flanks, with the vibrancy of both Bukaya Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
Arsenal were simply relentless in the opening minutes, forcing Leicester into throwing bodies ungainly around the penalty area to prevent a breakthrough. The visitors – without the services of injured Vardy, traditionally so lively against Arsenal – succumbed to the opening goal in just 11 minutes.
From a corner on the left, Martinelli whipped in an excellent delivery – and Partey was on hand at the near post to elude three Leicester defenders to head home his second goal of the season.
It was a fruitful first half as it transpired for Partey, who, a few minutes later amid the hosts’ deluge, curled the ball off the bar with Foxes’ keeper Kasper Schmeichel helpless. Tumultuous fare, indeed.
However, at some stage the east Midlands outfit were going to enjoy the occasional foray - and they took steps to threaten, testing Ramsdale. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s touch let him down on one particular occasion in an arena where chances for most visiting sides at present are at a premium.
There was nothing wrong with Harvey Barnes’s 35th minute header though, which drew a fantastic save from Ramsdale. The winger’s effort from seven yards out should have been the leveller, but such was the quality of the stop from the Gunners’ glove man, it merited admiration from Leicester chief Rodgers on the side lines.
Arsenal regrouped and piled pressure at the start of the second half – and there was lengthy VAR controversy in the 54th minute, before referee Anthony Taylor awarded a penalty to the Gunners. Caglar Soyuncu appeared to handle in a melee where Schmeichel initially repelled a header by Partey from close range. It was, arguably, rough luck on the Turkish defender - booked in the minutes of rancour which followed - and the Foxes.
Lacazette despatched the spot kick into the roof of the net – and it was the sort of breathing space Arteta would have craved.
Two goals down, the upshot was that Rodgers’ men had to go on the offensive, leaving them potentially exposed to the passing of Odegaard and the pace of Martinelli. Leicester also had to account for the combined alertness of the Arsenal back four, with Ben White especially composed and impressive.
Young Gunner, Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Martinelli with 13 minutes remaining to rapturous applause from the home support, Arteta mindful of securing the points with extra screening across the middle of the pitch.
City had ran out of ideas and zest by this point; the circumstances of the penalty seemed to affect them hugely. As for Arsenal – they have been in fine form since December and will certainly feel confident of facing title-chasing Liverpool at the Emirates on Wednesday. With their fans happy, it promises to be quite a night.
Gunners: Ramsdale, Tierney, Gabriel, White, Soares, Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard, Saka (Pepe 84), Martinelli (Smith-Rowe 77), Lacazette (Nketiah 87)