Arsenal 1-1 Leicester: A Game of Two Halves Again
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
It’s becoming a recurring theme. Arsenal dominate the first half, look in complete control, and then switch off. Luckily, prior to this game, the substitutions worked to full effect. Arteta’s men look leggy up towards the 60 minute mark, he throws on the likes of Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah, and the energy level returns as the fresh players set the tempo.
Unfortunately, this just didn’t work tonight. Why? A questionable decision by referee Chris Cavannagh. The man in black chose to send Eddie Nketiah off on the 75th minute after an extensive VAR review. Thus, the plan to add energy to the game through the Hale End Academy graduate had to be thrown out the window.
Mind you, Arsenal’s game plan didn’t change much to what it had been for the majority of the second half. Sit back in a low block and allow Leicester to try to create chances. For the majority of the game, just like it did at Molineux on Saturday, this plan worked remarkably well. Despite the relatively low calibre of player in our backline, we have looked solid.
However, it always felt like this plan was an accident waiting to happen. It is impossible to play Sead Kolasinac and Shkodran Mustafi as wide centre-backs without an acceptance that a lapse in concentration might arrive at some point. For the goal, both were at fault. Kolasinac was pulled out of position which left a gap for Gray to play the ball through and Mustafi lost track of Vardy. Yes, something to tear our hair out about. But again, a good learning point for Mikel Arteta. PLEASE PLAY KIERAN TIERNEY AS THE LCB AGAINST SPURS.
Anyway, enough of the doom and gloom. We cannot forget that in the first half we saw a completely different game of football. Hector Bellerìn looked incredibly sharp at right-wing-back and was linking up nicely with the energetic Bukayo Saka. Alex Lacazette’s linkup play was as good as it has been for a while and of course Aubameyang was the right man in the right place yet again. Plenty of signs to be encouraged about.
As hinted previously, the defence also looked solid for the majority of the affair. David Luiz once again marshalled his backline expertly and did an excellent job of bringing Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos into the game. As Jamie Redknapp announced at half-time, the first half was representative of another Ceballos “masterclass” in the middle. Arsenal should be doing all they can to keep hold of the Spaniard for next season.
The worry Arteta would’ve taken from the first half was the lack of clinical touch. All Arsenal needed was add another goal and the games was ours. But, Lacazette and co. continued to be frustrated in front of goal. That being said, as he always is against us, Kasper Schmeichel was brilliant between the sticks.
And that gives a pretty accurate depiction of what tonight’s game was for Arsenal. A first-half which showed off some wonderful free-flowing ArtetaBall and a second half which exemplified our newly discovered gritty, dogged side. The only problem tonight was that we didn’t hold out. Nonetheless, the positive signs are clear for all to see.
The defensive concentration will need fine-tuning and when we are on top, we have to take advantage, but this is a process. This is the same squad that lost so dismally away at the King Power earlier on in the season. Quite frankly, the team that started tonight was unrecognisable in comparison to the one that played in that 2-0 defeat. Don’t forget, this is just the beginning.
That being said, undoubtedly, being able to control a game for 90 minutes rather than 45 will be somewhere towards the top of Mikel Arteta’s agenda. Whether this current crop of personnel are capable of that is another question but it is a slight concern. Still, Arteta isn’t the sort of man to ignore his side’s flaws. This will be addressed at some point in the future.