12 consecutive home wins against Leicester in the league. Undefeated against them at home since the 70s. Signs were good.
Much in the same way as Wolves, Leicester are an organised, experienced team that are backed by a canny manager. Another chance to flirt with the idea of sneaking into the Top Four or at the very least, testing our mettle against a team that trailed only Liverpool and Man City for much of the season.
I’ve seen and heard quite a lot of discussion about what Arteta’s trying to do with the current crop of players.
For the time being, I’d wager he’s looking to demonstrate his capability to organise players, and by extension, make bad players better and good players look great. Coming into a job – his first managerial job – in such circumstances would obviously leave question marks and uncertainty as to whether he’s up to the task. Playing three at the back, Saka wherever he needs a gap filled and an absentee playmaker doesn’t necessarily feel like a long-term system that Arteta wants to implement, but rather a way to grind out results with his current stock. It absolutely makes sense given the circumstances but we can still see some aspects of the lack of creativity despite the recent uptick in fluidity going forward. What transpired for much of the first half – especially after we broke the deadlock – instead felt like a “tactical workaround”.
It was still a surprise to see we’d enjoyed 0% territory in the final third at the 15 minute mark. Just like Wolves, teams that set themselves up in such a way find it easy to stifle us without that explicit creative link in midfield.
That being said, I was hugely impressed with the impact our double pivot of Xhaka and Ceballos had in the first half, particularly the latter. I thought they were instrumental in beating Wolves and were even better yesterday. While our first half dominance may have ultimately been disappointing (with the benefit of hindsight), you could at least see how the team wanted to take advantage of the momentum. If not for some heroics from Baby Schmeichel and some wayward finishing, we may well have put the result beyond the crooked reach of VAR.
It’s also worth mentioning that this double pivot isn’t bereft of creativity. Xhaka’s distribution is unrivalled in the team and Ceballos clearly has an eye for a pass, as we saw; it was one thing to lose the man with a dropped shoulder but to find Saka and weight the ball so perfectly was a step closer to another deal.
As for Saka, I’m running out of superlatives. Right wing, left wing, left back, wing back, centre mid. He doesn’t care, nor does it seem to stop him from contributing in meaningful ways. The stop-start shimmy was enough to put Evans on his arse and he put it on a plate with his weak foot for Aubameyang. That takes him to 12 assists in all competitions this season, with only Alexander-Arnold and De Bruyne ahead of him. Tidy player we’ve got there if that’s the kind of company he’s amongst.
The second half was all Leicester. There was always going to be pushback and I think on this occasion, we waited too long to make changes. There were some leggy people out there, which is obviously understandable, but I think the changes came 10 minutes too late. Plans were very much defenestrated when Eddie made way in the manner he did, which brings me onto my favourite topic…
I’m not going to conclusively say one way or the other if I think Vardy meant to kick Mustafi in the face. What we do know, is Vardy has history for kicking out and a history of red cards – 3 in the Premier League – so read into that what you will. That also discounts the ones he’s got away with. Having watched the clip back from all available angles, I’m inclined to think that at the very least, his trailing leg doesn’t move naturally and the way he moves his head and “faux surprise” after the contact seems like damning evidence. Of course, the referee doesn’t have the benefit of slow motion, multi-angled replays. If only Big Brother could point out such clear and obvious errors… It’s not like Mustafi’s face was a clue either.
Ultimately, it boils down to consistency, which is something you’ll often hear me calling for because it’s what’s so often lacking in these circumstances.
Eddie’s challenge was bad. There was no malice, he was just late and high. With these sorts of tackles, I always think “how would I feel if that was an Arsenal player on the receiving end?” and it’s a red.
Where I really lose my mind, is the fact that only one was brought to the attention of VAR and scrutinised endlessly. Even if Vardy lacked intent, he’s still endangered an opponent so where does the buck stop? It’s also another game where a decisive goal has been scored by someone who arguably shouldn’t have been on the pitch (Maupay, Jorginho and now Vardy). Even the offside debate bored me to tears. If he was offside, it was by an insignificant amount anyway so why are we watching time grind to a halt while they play on a tablet?
I still think we were good for at least one other goal; by that, I mean that with the quality of chances we created and the amount of pressure we put them under, at least one more should’ve gone in.
Arteta lamented this after the game, saying:
“We have to learn that when you play this type of opponent you have to kill them when you have them.”Stark contrast to dear Unai…
Lacazette’s diving header was probably the one that got away and it’s especially disappointing that such a brilliant cross from Bellerín wasn’t put away. It’s not an easy chance to score from but at the same time, he couldn’t have made it any easier for Schmeichel. For what it’s worth, I at least felt like Lazcazette looked more like his former self yesterday, with his sharp turns and minimal backlift, close-quarters shooting though the jury is probably still split on his future at the club.
Anyway, the North London Derby is next and the table is well and truly set. Mourinho’s marble-haemorrhaging is in full swing, Eric Dier’s been suspended by the FA for his own well-being ahead of the tie despite Aaron Ramsey plying his trade in another country and Arsenal are in a run of form against a Spurs team dealing with in-fighting… which means Michael Oliver will probably send Mustafi off after a Son dive.