Let me get this out of the way first: Arsenal deserved to win the game. Those who say we were lucky to win it are partly right, but saying that without context would not be doing justice to the Gunners. The reality is such: we played Ranieri’s men off the park. We had 78% of the ball, took 24 shots to Leicester’s 7 and had 11 corners to their 1.
To those who will point out much of this activity happened after the sending off I’ll reply: Fuchs and Simpson were booked 3 times between them in the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, resulting in the latter being sent off. Leicester couldn’t cope with our pace and energy, they were starting to lose the plot and resorted to fouling. In fact, their nasty attitude didn’t subside even after going down to 10 men and it is my firm belief they should have finished the game with 8 players on the pitch. Yes, you read that right – I think both Kante and Drinkwater were lucky to see the game out. So I’ll start with Leicester’s behavior.
Simply put, it was an attitude very far from what you could call “fair play”. They dived, the went in for nasty challenges, they wasted time after going 1-0 up. The fact that, even with 10 men, the Foxes didn’t create anything of note in 2nd half is also highly indicative of their attitude on the day.
I was repelled by such an approach. I don’t think there’s one Leicester player on the pitch (barring, maybe, Albrighton and Morgan) who played fairly. Schmeichel wasted time again and again, Fuchs and Simpson repeatedly (and deliberately, for the most part) “roughed up” Bellerin and Alexis, both Vardy and Mahrez weren’t ashamed of diving, while Drinkwater and Kante were revolting in their approach. Both should have been sent off. Drinkwater’s challenge on Ramsey was worthy of a red in itself, while Kante committed at least three bookable offenses (deliberate handball in the box, climbing over Ozil, hacking the German down later in the game), but was only booked once.
Overall, it was disgusting to witness and my joy at beating Leicester was multiplied because of the fact they didn’t deserve anything from the game. Even Ranieri didn’t look like a charming old man in the presser. He just came across as a bad loser, choosing to ignore his team’s nasty antics and instead blaming the ref for all the misfortunes, saying the sending off was uncalled for.
Incidentally, that brings me to my 2nd point.
He had a shocker of a performance. Here are just a few things he didn’t notice/chose to let slide:
- Kante’s handball in the box
- Vardy’s dive
- Drinkwater’s challenge on Ramsey
- Huth’s handball in the box
- Kante climbing all over Ozil in the build-up for the penalty
I’m sure they were more things Atkinson ignored, however, the list of his mistakes isn’t exclusively limited to the aforementioned. How about booking Ramsey and Coquelin for their respective first fouls? Or booking Koscielny for hell knows what, because Kos didn’t even commit a single foul?
At least he got the cards to Leicester players right, though, as I’ve said, he could (and should) have given more of these. Abysmal performance from a referee in a game of such importance. Only positive is that it didn’t cost us.
The penalty incident
At first I thought Atkinson got the call right. It looked pretty straightforward: Vardy got into the box, rounded off Monreal, the Spaniard stuck out his leg in a desperate attempt to stop Vardy going through on goal, caught the Englishman in the leg and Vardy fell.
Replays told another story entirely. In short, they told the story of a dive. If you want the long version, Monreal stuck out his foot, but didn’t touch Vardy, the Englishman poked the ball to his right and wasn’t impeded to follow it. Instead, he chose to run straight into Monreal, trip over him and fall to the ground in seeming agony.
The only mistake Monreal made was presenting Vardy with a chance to fall in the box. Pretty much the same mistake Mertesacker made vs Costa. Nacho should have been more careful, but it doesn’t make Vardy’s dive any less of a dive.
And now the good moments.
The Frenchman was simply massive. It was an exemplary centre-forward performance. The only thing missing from it was a goal, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying: Ollie took 7 shots, all from inside the box and only 2 were off target. His best effort was saved spectacularly by Schmeichel.
But it doesn’t diminish his contribution in the slightest. Olivier created 4 chances for his teammates (only Ozil created more – 6), all from open play and one of these was an assist, he won 13 (!) aerial duels and the way he caused all sorts of problems for Huth and Morgan was admirable. Think we can safely say he won the physical battle against Leicester’s centre-backs.
As soon as Gabriel’s injury was confirmed, Arsenal fans started having jitters about how we were going to contain Vardy. Can’t say I related to them: I saw with my own eyes how shaky Gabriel looked against Bournemouth and actually thought Mertesacker could be a better option: his distribution skills, his understanding with Koscielny and his organisational prowess were the qualities Arsenal sorely missed against the Cherries.
And our Big German didn’t disappoint: his passing today was at 97% (57/59 passed completed) and the calmness he exuded spread itself to the rest of our defense. Once again our vice captain proved his doubters wrong by performing admirably in a big game. Kudos to him for that.
On a side note, when his partner-in-crime, Laurent Koscielny, was subbed off at half-time owing to a dead leg, and Calum Chambers came on, Per looked just as comfortable and unperturbed. Same can be said about Calum Chambers, who looked very calm and disciplined the entire half.
It was our first look at the pair in action since early August and, while Francis gave way to Theo on the hour in a (successful) attempt to win the game, I liked how he dovetailed with Ramsey.
Maybe that’s because Ramsey played a more disciplined role (tied with Monreal for most tackles and interceptions and led the team in ball recoveries), but I get the feeling that Coquelin, much like Mertesacker, has an ability to exert his calming influence on his teammates. No doubt we’ll see this combination again. The first signs look promising.
The Come Back Kid
Lastly a special mention for our match winner, Danny Welbeck. What a special moment after ten frustrating months for a player who may just be crucial in the run in. He is fresh, he is versatile, being able to play anyway across the front line and perhaps most importantly he has 3 months to forces his way back into the England squad for June.
We may have all wondered when Wenger declined to buy back up knowing of Welbeck’s injury in August but if the impact he made v Leicester is a sign of things to come not buying in January may be understandable. The celebration’s for his goal appeared as much for Danny’s popularity as for its importance and Wenger said the whole team where singing his song in the changing room after the match – De De De De De De De De De De De De Danny Welbeck…………………..
The win takes us within two points of Leicester and the goal difference is such that, as soon as Leicester drop points and we pounce, we’ll go top of the league.
Things have been rather complicated by Spurs beating City later in the evening, meaning we remain in 3rd place, however it also means there is now a 4-point gap between us and Pellegrini’s men. Also, we still have to play Spurs, United and City away and will most likely require 9 points to keep our title hopes alive.
But the win today was still absolutely massive and everyone involved deserves huge credit for it. We can worry about everything else when we get there.
For now just enjoy the occasion.