Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City
Arsenal defeated the Premiership’s bottom club Leicester City on Tuesday night with a very unconvincing performance which may have left several Gunners fans fearing for the club’s top four status, despite the win moving their side into fourth place, albeit on a temporary basis.
Although the fact this game was played so soon after the North London derby should be taken into account, Arsene Wenger’s tactics didn’t help matters either. The manager elected to rest Olivier Giroud and play Walcott up front with Sanchez and Ozil on the flanks with all three given licence to interchange. In theory such tactics should serve to confuse the opposition defence as they are never sure which player they are marking and confusion in central defence will ultimately lead to the concession of goals.
However this was a strange decision when used against a team that was only ever to going to arrive at the Emirates with one game plan in mind. Unsurprisingly Nigel Pearson instructed his side to sit deep and hit Arsenal on the counter attack. As most teams that visit the home of the Gunners employ these tactics, it is difficult to understand how Wenger didn’t foresee the situation that would inevitably unfold. With Leicester sitting deep, there was no space in behind for Walcott or Sanchez to exploit with their pace and as neither is particularly adept at playing the lone role and linking up the play, Arsenal had no real presence up front.
Even when they appeared to be in control during the first half, the Gunners still struggled to create goal scoring opportunities, despite managing to take a two goal lead. The first goal came from a corner and as a result of horrific defending from Leicester as Mesut Ozil’s delivery was steered in at the near post by the completely unmarked Laurent Koscielny. Then Ozil’s shot from outside the area proved too hot for Mark Schwarzer to handle as the Australian could only parry the ball straight to Theo Walcott who fired a first time effort into the bottom corner.
Yet these two incidents aside, Arsenal always appeared vulnerable to the counter attack with neither player stationed on the flanks, tracking back to help out their full backs, leaving both Monreal and Bellerin isolated at times. As a result Leicester were posing a threat throughout while the Gunners were struggling to get their attacking game going. Unfortunately Wenger failed to address the shortcomings from his side and his tactical substitutions in the second half actually made matters worse.
Sanchez received a kick to his knee during the first period and Wenger admitted afterwards that he had wanted to take the Chilean off at half time, but the player insisted on playing on, making little impact on the game after the interval. Sanchez was replaced with Giroud, which made sense as the substitution would give Arsenal an aerial and physical presence up front. They could now go long if needed rather than being restricted to short passes as they had been before.
Yet Wenger then decided to replace Walcott and introduce Ramsey instead of replacing like for like and brining on Welbeck. This move meant that Arsenal were now playing with four attacking midfielders who are more comfortable in the middle of the park than out wide. As a result, the Gunners attack became extremely narrow, with no width offered at all, as even the full backs struggled to get forward under this system. Every time the ball was with an Arsenal player on the flank, they would invariably cut inside, into the congested middle and ultimately end up losing the ball. The Gunners attack became extremely laboured, slow and methodical as square pass after square pass was played time and time again, with no player in a red and white shirt making runs beyond Giroud.
This all culminated in a nervous last 25 minutes for the home crowd as their side threatened to throw away a two goal lead against the Premier League’s bottom side. The referee didn’t help matters either with an absolutely abysmal display, showcasing ineptitude of the highest calibre and frustrating the Arsenal faithful with a series of inexplicable decisions. In fact in the build up to Leicester’s goal, the Gunners ignored the golden rule of playing to the whistle as they all stood still waiting for the referee to award a free kick for a handball, but were left waiting as the away side picked up possession and Kramaric drove the ball home having collected a cross.
Fortunately, Arsenal managed to hold on and saw the game out to record a victory which saw them move up into fourth place for the time being. Yet with this season’s race for a top four finish appearing to be hotter than ever, the Gunners will have to improve vastly if they are to maintain their place amongst Europe’s elite. A hamstring injury to Aaron Ramsey looks set to rule him out for a number of weeks while the injury picked up by Sanchez will also have Arsenal supporters sweating as he has become a pivotal figure for this side. Since the festive period the Gunners had appeared to have found their form and were beginning to win games in style, but their last two games have seen them perform well below their best. Wenger must ensure this not become the norm.