Arsenal 2-1 Leicester: Danny Welbeck scores dramatic last-minute winner as Gunners edge title rivals at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal edged a thrilling victory over Premier League title rivals Leicester on Sunday
Jamie Vardy gave the Foxes the lead from the penalty spot towards the end of the first-half
Arsenal equalised through substitute striker Theo Walcott who finished off a fine team move on 71 minutes
Leicester were reduced to 10 men when defender Danny Simpson was sent off for a second bookable offence
Another substitute, Danny Welbeck, scored a last-minute winner for Arsene Wenger’s side
The last time Danny Welbeck played for Arsenal, Leicester were 17th and one point off the relegation zone. Maybe he thought they still were.
Arsenal’s absentee striker succeeded where so many had failed this season. He finally broke Leicester’s resistance. A man down from the 54th minute, they had stayed strong. Yes, they had conceded in the 71st minute, erasing a first-half lead.
But there was no shame in a point at the Emirates Stadium and while Arsenal were getting closer and closer, Leicester’s resistance was admirable.
And then, from what was always likely to be the last attack of the game, Welbeck restored the natural order. Marcin Wasilewski needlessly gave away a free-kick, flattening Nacho Monreal when all he had to do was close him down.
Mesut Ozil whipped in a free-kick and Welbeck’s head did the rest. Was this the sign that the pressure will crush Leicester in the end? The inability to hold out against a tide of elite privilege and entitlement.
The best players, the quality of the squad, all the advantages of the chasing pack, as embodied by Arsenal’s bench. An England international striker as substitute? How Leicester would love that.
So, this time, they broke. It is how they return from this that matters, though. What they do to pick themselves up, in their next match at home to West Brom. Still six points from nine, in games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal. Would they have taken that at the start? Probably.
Arsenal beat them soundly away from home earlier in the season, but not here. Indeed, they scored after 71 minutes with what pretty much amounted to their first shot on target all game. It came after Leicester had held out against an unremitting onslaught once Danny Simpson disappeared, shown a red card by referee Martin Atkinson. Leicester were at full stretch, pinned back in their own half, deep, deep, deep.
It could not last. Finally, Hector Bellerin crossed, Olivier Giroud won the header and Theo Walcott was more alive to it that substitute Demarai Gray, leaving Kasper Schmeichel no chance.
After that, there were thrills and spills, but no more goals until Welbeck’s final intervention. Per Mertesacker tried to over-steer a header into a corner, and missed – Alexis Sanchez came close with a shot, Schmeichel made a quite brilliant save from Giroud with three minutes remaining. Yet Leicester held. As ever, they managed to threaten with the odd break, even against such overwhelming odds.
Did Simpson deserve to go? Probably not. He was booked in the 49th minute for hauling down Sanchez, then grappled unwisely with Giroud from a throw-in.
It seemed a desperately soft second yellow, although repeat offences in quick succession are hardly the brightest move. Anyway, Leicester’s fortune around the penalty area in the first-half – and a very poor dive by Riyad Mahrez in the second-half – balanced the injustices, even if that is a depressing thought. Unlike Leicester, still top of the league. For how long depends on how hurt they are by this.
They have got away with a few of late, Leicester. Robert Huth could easily have been sent-off early for an elbow against Liverpool, and would then have been unable to score his goals against Manchester City the following week.
So it was here. Arsenal had a spot kick rejected that looked appealing – and Leicester had one given that appeared more dubious with each viewing.
Mind you, fans of the league’s smaller entities will merely say that like the current order at the top of the table this is a reversal that is long overdue. Welcome to our world, Arsenal and the rest of the elite.
Still, it wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair. N’Golo Kante certainly looked to have handled when cutting out a cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the ninth minute – and Nacho Monreal’s challenge on Jamie Vardy in the 44th minute was not as nefarious as it seemed in real time, or after a first replay. It was only on repeated viewings that Vardy’s cunning became apparent.
While Monreal did indeed dive in, Vardy made damn sure that there was contact, too. He was smart, though – in a dark-hearted way – and made it very hard for the referee, to give any decision other than a penalty.
There were howls of injustice from the locals, but there probably would have been even if Monreal had taken him out with a billiard cue. Vardy remained unmoved. He took a fabulous penalty, Petr Cech going the wrong way, the ball nestling in his left corner. It wasn’t what Leicester deserved in terms of possession, but they did have the best chances.
Cech needed to make two very good saves to stop worse damage being done before half-time. Leicester’s first chance, in the 16th minute, showed why Leicester are regarded as fresh air in a competition that could have grown stale with the dominance of a handful of super-rich clubs.
Aaron Ramsey was away, having sprung Leicester’s defensive line when Schmeichel made the bold decision to challenge him, 50-50, a good 35 yards from goal. He sprinted out and threw himself into a desperate sliding tackle. Had he missed the ball he probably wouldn’t have been seen again until March.
Instead, he won it, as well as any centre-half, setting up a counter-attack from which Leicester almost scored. The move ended with a Marc Albrighton cross and Vardy’s header, saved low at the near post by Cech.
His second fine stop of the day came after 40 minutes when Kante struck a curling shot from the left which Cech tipped round, magnificently. It was one of those defining performances from Kante, the sort that will make major clubs across Europe take notice.
He was everywhere – Claude Makelele at the back, Patrick Vieira surging forward – and those clubs spending fortunes on recruitment departments must look at the £6m Leicester paid Caen and wonder what their own spies were doing.
Time and again, Kante thwarted Arsenal when it mattered, meaning they saw plenty of the ball but had little to show for it. Oxlade-Chamberlain got into a good position inside the first minute but crossed when he could have shot, Olivier Giroud steered a couple of headers over, Alexis Sanchez nodded one wide. The sending off changed the dynamic, obviously. Until then, Arsenal had promised much, delivered little.
By Martin Samuel for the Daily Mail
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