Arsenal started well, dipped a bit to close out the first 45, and totally dominated the second half en route to a 2-0 win over visiting Leicester City. Thomas Partey and Alexandre Lacazette (pen.) scored for the Gunners, Martin Ødegaard ran the show, and both Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White made goal-saving plays. The win moves Arsenal back into 4th place in the table, with several games in hand over their competitors. The Gunners have won nine, drawn one, and lost one of their last 11 Premier League matches. Along with Liverpool (who visit the Emirates midweek), Arsenal are the hottest team in the Prem.
The Gunners started the match like gangbusters, pinning Leicester back and attacking in waves. They were rewarded for their efforts in the 11th minute when Thomas Partey nodded home a Gabriel Martinelli corner. It was too easy, really. Leicester have been dreadful on set pieces all season and were again. Partey came free by just slowing his run and letting his mark run beyond him, giving him an uncontested header at the near post.
Partey nearly got a second a few minutes later, smashing a curling effort off the woodwork near the top corner. The Gunners had a handful of other half chances but weren’t able to force Kasper Schmeichel into difficult saves. Bukayo Saka had a half-shout for a penalty as well, and while I thought it should have been given, it probably would have been a bit harsh.
About midway through the first half, Arsenal fell off and Leicester had their best spell. It took a tremendous block from Ben White on one Leicester effort and a magnificent one-handed save from Aaron Ramsdale on another to keep the Foxes off the board. The Ramsdale save was so good that Brendan Rodgers was already celebrating an equalizer and was caught on camera mouthing “wow” when Ramsdale kept it out.
Arsenal weren’t “lucky” to get in at the half with the lead, but it felt as if a Leicester goal might have been on the way had the Gunners not had the break to regroup. And boy did they make the most of the opportunity to reset.
The Gunners were dominant in the second half, dominating the possession, dictating the tempo, generating all the chances, and giving Leicester nary a sniff. It was a suffocating 45 minutes of football, one of the best halves the side has played all season.
Alexandre Lacazette put the match out of reach in the 59th minute, blasting a penalty into the top corner, giving an incensed Schmeichel, who thought Lacazette had stopped in his run-up, no chance of saving it. The penalty came after a long VAR review to determine whether Çağlar Söyüncü handled an Arsenal header towards the open Leicester goal.
I’m not sure what took so long because the ball clearly hit his outstretched arm and changed direction. What I am surprised about is how Söyüncü escaped a red card. By the Laws, a handball offense that denies a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is a sending off, regardless of where the offense occurred. The only explanation that isn’t “both Anthony Taylor and the VAR don’t know the rules” is that they determined it wasn’t DOGSO.
There was a Leicester player on the line who cleared the handball-deflected effort, which is likely Söyüncü’s saving grace. But it’s a massive stretch to say that any header at an essentially open goal, taken with the keeper out of the picture, is not at least an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. It should have been a penalty and a red card, and Arsenal should have seen out the match up 2-0 and up a man. The Gunners also could have been up a man for a second yellow card offense by Kelechi Iheanacho, who threw an arm across Ben White’s face in a matter strikingly similar to what Iheanacho was cautioned for doing to Gabriel Magalhaes in the first half.
Fortunately, neither non-sending off mattered because the Gunners squeezed the life out of the match. Arsenal looked the more likely side to score even after going up 2-0. The dominance was mostly down to Martin Ødegaard’s virtuoso performance on the afternoon. I’ve run out of things to say about the Norwegian midfielder; he is the most important man on the pitch for the attack.
And if Ødegaard is the most important, Thomas Partey is the second most important. The Gunners’ deeper lying midfielder continued his strong run of matches with important defensive interventions, ball recoveries, clever touches to relieve pressure, and ball progression. Last season and this past fall, Partey showed flashes of brilliance but was inconsistent. He would be dominant one match and terrible the next. At the start of December, he admitted in an interview that he felt as if he wasn’t at his best and that he needed to be better. Since then, he’s been every bit the match-controlling player Arsenal purchased him to be.
And congratulations to Alexandre Lacazette: the penalty kick goal was his 200th as a professional. He has been an important role-player in Arsenal’s fantastic run of form, working hard without the ball, linking up the play, providing assists, and being a leader and mentor for this young Arsenal side. He adapted to his new, secondary role without issue and without making waves — a consummate professional.
My biggest concern with Mikel Arteta coming into the season was whether he could coach an attack dangerous enough to make Arsenal top four contenders. Since Arteta inverted the midfield three of Partey, Xhaka, and Ødegaard, the attack has been humming along. The Gunners look threatening with Bukayo Saka on one side and Gabriel Martinelli on the other. Both were menacing again today, Martinelli especially, and the club has Emile Smith Rowe coming off the bench and scoring goals.
It’s really fun to be an Arsenal supporter right now. The team is playing well, stacking up results, and moving up the table. It’s a young bunch that still has plenty of room to grow, especially with another summer of transfer investment. Liverpool on Wednesday will be a tough test, but with the way the side is playing right now, they have as good a shot as they’ve had in the last five years of taking the points.