Starting XI: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Mavropanos, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck, Aubameyang
Subs: Ospina, Osei-Tutu, Mertesacker, Mustafi, Willock, Nelson, Nketiah
Arsene Wenger’s wait for an away league win in 2018 will go down to the last day of the season as Arsenal were beaten 3-1 by Leicester at the King Power.
The game turned inside 60 seconds as Kelechi Iheanacho put Claude Puel’s side ahead on 14 minutes and inside a minute forced Konstantinos Mavropanos into a challenge that earned the Greek youngster a straight red. Petr Cech kept the Gunners within touching distance before the break with a series of fine stops before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scrapped an equaliser on 53 minutes.
Often the case with the Gunners on the road, we couldn’t hold our lead as Jamie Vardy scored from the spot after Demarai Gray had been fouled by Henrikh Mkhitaryan. With two minutes remaining, Riyad Mahrez sealed the points for the Foxes with a typical weaving run and finish.
We were quick to assert our passing game on the home side with Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Aubameyang and Iwobi playing pretty triangles in the final third. The latter, seemingly buoyed by his tidy strike on Sunday, had the first effort on target testing Jakupovic from 10 yards on 7 minutes.
As the travelling support chanted the names of Vieira, Henry and Cazorla we kept building pressure and working nice positions behind the Leicester full-backs. Kolasinac found space and fired a low pass across the six-yard box. Where was the support?
It felt like a goal was coming. And it did. Just not for the Gunners. We were playing away, remember.
Vardy, taking advantage of a sloppy pass by Welbeck, turned Holding left, then right before forcing a corner from Cech at his near post. We had about three chances to clear the ball before a cross to the back post was headed back by Diabate to Iheanacho who got over the ball and fired first time left-footed past Cech at the near post. Add it to our ever-growing portfolio of goals conceded courtesy of awful defending. (1-0)
Things got worse inside two minutes as Mavropanos became the 78th Arsenal player to receive a red card in the Premier League during Wenger’s tenure. Closed down by Iheanacho as he tried to play a pass out from the back, he panicked and pulled the Nigeria international down about 40-yards from goal. Referee Graham Scott didn’t hesitate in reaching for his pocket. Was the Greek really the last man? It looked harsh given Holding was racing across to cover.
Wenger called Mustafi from the bench and replaced Welbeck as we tried to regroup. While the German was putting on his shirt Fuchs went in hard on Maitland-Niles, leaving the England under-21 international holding his ankle.
As the home fans found their voice, Maguire and Iheanacho forced Cech into further saves and Diabate twice nearly found an unmarked Vardy with low crosses. Our game plan appeared to be, give the ball to the players in blue whenever possible and then let them run unchallenged at the box. Not ideal if you’re trying to win a football game. Wenger looked suitably effed off.
Out of nothing, two chances for the Gunners. Xhaka and Iwobi combined to feed Mkhitaryan. His shot on the swivel was brilliantly saved by Jakupovic. The keeper liked his work so much, he even celebrated with a double fist clench. He was lucky seconds later though. The corner dropped to Aubemeyang who crafted a toe-poked finish that was deflected just wide.
Back came Leicester. Maitland-Niles felled Vardy, up stepped Silva to test Cech with a low drive. The veteran keeper got down brilliantly again to deny Iheanacho. The former City attacker ended the half by shooting from just inside the Arsenal half. It sailed over.
There was no respite from the frantic end-to-end action. Within a minute of the re-start Kolasinac, found by Xhaka, smacked the bottom of Jakupovic’s near post with a left-foot shot. Vardy came close to springing the Gunners offside trap, but was rightly flagged, then Holding had to clear off the line as Diabate dinked an effort over Cech.
On 52 minutes, Arsenal worked a great equaliser. Xhaka spread the play to Maitland-Niles who drove goalwards and crossed to the
Gambian Gabonese striker. His first effort was saved but he was quick to retrieve the rebound and smashed into the roof of the net for his ninth Premier League goal of the season. (1-1)
The game turned scrappy. Vardy was offside again. Close. Mkhitaryan was blocked off by Simpson. Nothing given. Maitland-Niles fell awkwardly and needed treatment. Kolasinac took out Mahrez.
What followed was a 10 minute cameo that encapsulated the good, the bad and the ugly of Mkhitaryan. On 66 minutes he plucked a long ball out of the air and flashed over the bar on the angle. Close. Four minutes he had a great chance to return a pass to Ramsey after the Welshman had carried the ball 70-yards to the edge of the Leicester box. Instead, his over-hit pass rolled out of play. Then our January signing conceded a penalty. Tracking back to help out Maitland-Niles he hung out a lazy leg and toppled Gray. Referee Scott couldn’t wait to point to the spot and Vardy smashed into the top left-hand corner. (2-1)
Chasing another equaliser we continued our kamikaze tactics, pushing men forward and leaving the defence sorely exposed. Mahrez made us pay the prize. Collecting a pass in acres of space, he danced into the area, left Holding and then Cech on the turf and tucked into an empty net. (3-1)
There was a touching moment in stoppage time as the Arsenal fans chanted Wenger’s name with pride and the home support rose as one to give the Frenchman a standing ovation. A classy gesture, but the type you only make when you’re in a good mood and winning. Still, nice enough.
We already had the worst away record in this calendar year. We still do. The real question is whether we’ve seen Arsene Wenger’s last ever win as Arsenal manager or if we’ve got anything in the tank to take down Huddersfield on Sunday.