Don’t let that 1-0 scoreline fool you, Arsenal smashed Leicester City. The Foxes had only 34% possession, didn’t manage their first shot attempt until the 72nd minute, didn’t have a single shot on target, and had no corners. It was complete and total domination from start to finish. Those nerves down the stretch were the natural product of being in the title race, not due to any particular threat from Leicester City.
Arsenal snapped a five-match streak without a clean sheet in the Premier League. They’d allowed an average of 1.5 xG over their last four matches, but held Leicester to 0.01 xG today. Consecutive away wins means they’ve now taken more points away from home in 13 matches this season (31) than they did all of last season (28). It was exactly the follow-up performance the club needed to build off the comeback win against Aston Villa.
Swapping Leandro Trossard for Eddie Nketiah worked pretty well. The Arsenal attack looked more fluid with more interchange between players. The final ball let the Gunners down in the first half, but they were moving the Leicester defense around and finding players, particularly Granit Xhaka, in plenty of space. Xhaka had a solid bounce-back performance. He wasn’t spectacular but was markedly better than he had been.
The Arsenal centerbacks were quite good on the afternoon, Gabriel Magalhaes in particular. Probably the Man of the Match, for me. You don’t hold an opponent to no attacking threat without great play from your defenders.
The lone goal in the match (at least the only one that counted) came at the start of the second half. Leandro Trossard got free down the left and nutmegged his marker to roll it into the path of Gabriel Martinelli. The Brazilian, who had blown past Timothy Castagne, took a few steps, a couple of touches, and rolled it into the far corner. It was a classy, composed finish, particularly welcome given the recent questions about Martinelli’s form and confidence. I’m sure all your hearts were in your throats when Gabby was clutching his knee after scoring, but thankfully, he was alright. The injury came from being stepped on by Wilf Ndidi, who was lucky to escape a yellow (or red) card for it, and Martinelli was able to carry on.
Arsenal probably should have won by multiple goals but had a first half Leandro Trossard opener wiped out by VAR for a soft foul call against Ben White. Minutes later, Bukayo Saka looked to have been hauled down from behind in the box, but the penalty wasn’t given and the appeal was quickly dismissed by VAR.
I can see how you give the foul against Ben White, even if I disagree with the call. He had a few fingers grasp on Danny Ward’s arm and it probably kept the Leicester keeper from getting two hands to the ball. But that kind of contact happens on every aerial duel in a football match. Players are always grabbing, grappling, and holding. If it’s a foul on the keeper, it’s a foul on everybody, and calling it every time would be absurd. On top of that, we’ve saw Aaron Ramsdale wrapped up by an Aston Villa attacker earlier in the season with no foul given by VAR.
It’s particularly galling to have an Arsenal goal chalked off for minimal contact when Bukayo Saka gets run over and dragged down from behind without it being given as a penalty. Harry Souttar ran across the back of Saka’s legs and had an arm fully around his waist. Nothing. The juxtaposition of those two decisions is particularly tough to stomach — not much contact takes a goal off the board for Arsenal, seemingly much more contact doesn’t win Arsenal a penalty.
Thankfully, the issues with refereeing and VAR are academic on the afternoon. My puzzlement over how Leicester committed 14 fouls, including some particularly nasty ones, without being cautioned while Arsenal received one yellow card among 9 fouls will be just a footnote.
Leicester are in trouble, especially if James Maddison’s knee continues to slow him. They’re not playing well at all, and he’s been their lone bright spot. You could also include Harvey Barnes in that category, if you want to be generous, but he did very little against Arsenal without Maddison’s presence and creativity next to him.
Arsenal are back to five points clear of Manchester City with the same number of matches played. City play Bournemouth today, then Arsenal even the match tally with a midweek fixture against Everton. The Gunners have a score to settle there. Hopefully they smash the Toffees at the Emirates.