Arsenal survive Leicester City scare to gain three vital points
LONDON -- Three observations from Arsenal's 2-1 Premier League win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium.
1. Arsenal barely hold on vs. Leicester City
Arsenal claim three points again, but you couldn't quite say they did so by grabbing this game by the scruff of the neck. Leicester City showed the kind of fight their manager Nigel Pearson expects.
Goals from centre-back Laurent Koscielny and winger Theo Walcott set up Arsenal's 2-1 win, but only after the brilliant striker Andrej Kramaric caused a lot of anxiety with a second-half strike. It was his first goal for the club, but unfortunately for Leicester the last of the game, as Arsene Wenger's side hung on in a way they couldn't in the late 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend.
The overall performance was not the only blemish for Arsenal, despite a good 15 minutes before halftime in which they sealed the win with two goals and looked something like their old selves. There was also the injury to midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who went off just minutes after coming on as a sub.
The hope for Wenger is that another spate of injuries doesn't disrupt the side's cohesion, just at a point when the Spurs defeat disrupted what had looked fearsome form.
Dropped points after that would have been hugely damaging after the weekend's defeat, and it came very close to that in what was a spirited Leicester finish.
Pearson's side responded impressively to two factors in the game, Arsenal going into halftime with a 2-0 lead, and to all the controversy of the weekend. The manager had been under increased pressure after getting into a touchline scuffle with Crystal Palace's James McArthur in a 1-0 home defeat and Saturday, and then so much speculation on Sunday that he'd lost his job.
Here, they did ultimately lose this game too, and the real problem is that they are rock bottom at 20th place and five points off safety.
In contrast, Arsenal just about ensure there there are only minimal margins in the race for the top four, but this display didn't offer that much encouragement -- at least beyond the performance of a resurgent Mesut Ozil, who set up both goals. Arsenal need to lift themselves in the way the German midfielder has done.
2. Leicester City play well against the big sides but still likely for the drop
Perhaps the most confusing thing about Leicester City this season is not what happened last Sunday, with so much speculation about manager Nigel Pearson's position, but that they still look so likely to go down despite apparently adjusting well when facing the elite end of the Premier League.
Wenger's side was initially finding life very difficult, and Leicester certainly seemed the better side for much of the first 27 minutes. Winger Riyad Mahrez had repeatedly found space around the home box and was unlucky not to score. One early break saw Mahrez's effort deflected wide by goalkeeper David Ospina's ankle, only for Pearson's five-man defence to fearsomely congest their own area.
Arsenal had to work exceptionally hard to eke every individual inch. They were also going to have to offer a bit more impetus and aggression, but Alexis Sanchez certainly offered the latter.
Here, Pearson had much more justifiable reason to be angry than any opposition player accidentally sliding into him, as happened with James McCarthy against Crystal Palace at the weekend. Sanchez did something that was much more deliberate.
With Arsenal eventually managing to win a corner on 26 minutes, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had managed to marshal his Leicester City defence, only for the Chilean to just barge left back Paul Konchesky out of the way.
Koscielny was thereby able to almost stroll into the extra space and side-foot the ball past Schwarzer.
From there, the key damage was done, not least when Walcott made it 2-0, although Leicester refused to give in. Kramaric personified that, making it 2-1 with a drilled effort having forced the corner that led to the chance in the first place, and perhaps represents their best chance of an improbable survival.
The deeper issue, though, is that they are now five points adrift of safety. That is not really because of incidents like Sanchez's. It is because of defeats like the weekend's at Crystal Palace. That is why Pearson is under pressure.
3. Is Ozil back to his best?
At his best, Ozil has always been player to maximise minimal space, to work in areas that the opposition only thought they had covered.
It was the source of his initial international rise with the Germany national team, when he drifted in the space between so many midfields and defences at the 2010 World Cup, not least England's, and from where he created so much havoc for Cristiano Ronaldo while at Real Madrid.
The irony in his last year at Arsenal has been that a player who so often appeared out of nowhere to do damage to the opposition has been accused of inhibiting his own team by going missing.
It was always somewhat debatable, but certainly does not ring through now. Take his contribution here.
Just when Leicester were making life so difficult for Arsenal in the first half, and really blocking every route to the goal, it was Ozil who stepped in to strike up an electric exchange with Sanchez and then fed a pass to Walcott that didn't look capable of being played from that position.
It was also his surge that led to the corner that eventually broke Leicester, and his own delivery that did the breaking.
Minutes later, with the game still in the balance, he burst through the centre of the pitch to power the ball at Schwarzer. Just as Leicester struggled to hold the German, the goalkeeper couldn't hold the shot, and Walcott powered home.
The end result is that Ozil now has six assists in his last four games. While it might be premature to say that represents a return to his best, and he probably still needs to offer that kind of impact in the really important games to come, it's a fine ratio of returns.
It's also a player stepping up, making himself visible.
In the closing minutes here, he was battling as much as Leicester had been. There was no hiding.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.