Friday, February 13, 2015

Arsenal 2 Leicester City 1

After the very disappointing local derby defeat 3 days ago, Arsenal needed to bounce back and a home clash with bottom-of-the-table Leicester City appeared to have been an ideal set-up for returning to winning ways. The result and performance were a bit disappointing as we expected a much more emphatic response from the team. However, three points were absolutely vital in our push for a top-four finish and combined with Tottenham's 3-2 loss at Anfield on the same night, their superiority in the league table, as well as all the noises from the noisy neighbours, came to a swift end.

Arsene Wenger made 3 changes to the side that started in the 2-1 loss in the north London derby on Saturday. While the back-five remained intact, major changes were made on the offensive side. The big pre-match news was Alexis Sanchez's return to fitness. The Chilean's desire and tenacity were sorely missed in the local derby and the return of the talisman from injury was a timely boost mentally as well. Olivier Giroud was dropped to the bench instead. Theo Walcott came for Danny Welbeck, who also started on the bench. Tomas Rosicky replaced Aaron Ramsey in midfield.

Wenger's team selection perplexed us. As this was the second game in 4 days, with an FA Cup 5th-round tie looming in 5 days' time, some rotation was expected, but it appeared that the boss had made too big a structural change with the absence of a target man. A home game against a lower-ranked side was a good opportunity to get back to Arsenal's traditional style of possession-based football, but the set-up looked to be designed for counter-attacking football. After the derby, inviting pressure from the opposition did not look like a good idea.

Leicester started confidently, giving us a feeling that this game might not be as easy as widely predicted. However, it proved that we were more clinical in front of goal than Leicester and thankfully, Morgan lost his marking in a crucial time, allowing Laurant Koscielny to meet Özil's clever corner kick and strike it into the back of the net in the 27th minute. Arsenal extended their lead in the 41st minute, when Walcott smashed the rebound from Özil's fierce shot which Schwarzer could only parry back into the box.

Kramaric's 61st-minute goal made the game extremely tense. Arsenal's defence looked shaky for the first time since David Ospina's introduction to the back five. It was clear that the Saturday's derby loss severely dented the confidence of our defenders. In the end, Arsenal held onto the narrow lead thanks to Leicester's poor finishing and all three points stayed home.

However, the performance was far from satisfactory. The passing was atrocious once again. Is this just down to the lack of physical sharpness? What worries us is that this is not the first time we witnessed it. Wenger needs to get to the bottom of it. The good thing is that the players seemed to know that their performances were not good enough. After the match, Theo Walcott stated that "there will be quite a few disappointed guys in the dressing room even though we've won". He also urged the team to step up their game against Middlesbrough if they want to progress in the FA Cup competition.

As well as our passing, the referee's decisions were also appalling. First of all, he did nothing to stop Leicester's coarse approach to the game by allowing repeated fouls on our players. Alexis was on the receiving end of a heavy tackle by Upson, after which "he was not himself" according to Wenger. It took 64 minutes for Mike Jones to caution a Leicester player. Secondly, how both Wasilewski and Giroud ended up with the same decisions is a mystery. Giroud was running away from Schwarzer when the keeper's goal kick hit the back of the French striker, while Wasilewski was clearly trying to stop Ospina from delivering the ball to initiate the attack by fouling him. The Leicester defender's challenge could have hurt our keeper badly. Both players were landed with a yellow card, totally disproportional to what they have done.

The 2-1 victory came with costs in the shape of Ramsey and Alexis' injuries. Wenger admitted that the Welshman's injury did not look good and baffled him as this was the third time he suffered the same hamstring problem. Hopefully, fit-again Jack Wilshere can fill the void. On the other hand, Alexis seemed to have escaped a serious knee injury and could be fit to play on Sunday.

On the positive side, Mesut Özil maintained his fine form in this game. He played an instrumental role in both goals. Francis Coquelin was also as reliable as usual, making 5 tackles, after registering an impressive 9 interceptions in Arsenal's generally lacklustre display against Spurs.

The hard-fought win saw Arsenal move to fourth place before Manchester United beat Burnley the next day. The performance was disappointing, but the three points were priceless. We would take a win without playing well any day of the week rather than playing well and losing, like Leicester did, but we all know the results will catch up with you sooner or later. As Manchester City proved, if you are not at your best, the Championship high-flyers will beat you and one bad game can eliminate you from the entire campaign. Fortunately, the team seem to know it.

Players ratings

Ospina: 6
Made a couple of good saves. Although he might not have seen the ball until late, being beaten at near post was disappointing.

Bellerin: 6

Struggled to cope with Leicester's attack on their left flank.

Mertesacker: 6
Made a couple of crucial last-ditch clearances.

Koscielny: 7
Scored the opener. Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 9 clearances. An impressive 10 aerial duels won. Stats-based's Man of the Match with a 8.70 rating.

Monreal: 6

He was our best defenders against Spurs (and even got into the Premier League Team of the Week for his battling performance in the north London derby), but this was not his best game. 

Coquelin: 7
Made 5 tackles, 1 interception and 6 clearances. He was a bit unlucky in the build-up to Leicester's goal. He did everything he could do to defend, but what can you do when the opponent traps the ball under his body? The ref should have blown the whistle.

Rosicky: 6


Cazorla: 6

A dip in his form was widely talked about among the fans. He was not standout player in this game, but he still created 3 chances and was unlucky not to score when his goal-bound effort drew a superb save from Schwarzer. 

Özil: 8
Widely recognised Man of the Match. Made 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, and created 4 chances. Great to see his fine form continue since his return from injury. 3 goals and 2 assists (3 if his shot parried leading to Walcott's goal is counted) in the last 4 games constitute some impressive form.

Walcott: 6
Scored what proved to be the winning goal, but he did very little apart from that. He should have scored when
Özil's inch-perfect through ball found him. 9 passes with a 66.7% accuracy is a very poor stat. Didn't help Bellerin very much defensively. Replaced by Ramsey in the 73rd minute.

Alexis: 6
After suffering a knock, he did not look his usual lively self. Replaced by Giroud in the 67th minute.


Giroud: 6
Replaced Alexis in the 67th minute. 

Ramsey: 5
Came off the bench to replace Walcott in the 73rd minute only to be replaced by Flamini 9 minutes later due to the recurrence of a hamstring injury.

Flamini: 6
Came on in the 82nd minute to replace Ramsey and see out the victory.

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