Arsenal vs Leicester City match report: Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny on target for Arsenal

Arsenal 2 Leicester 1

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Nigel Pearson used his intense touchline presence for good last night, but it was not quite enough to save this match. Whether it will be enough to save his job, or Leicester City’s Premier League status, remains to be seen.

Three days on from Pearson’s bizarre technical area altercation with James McArthur, which almost saw him sacked, Pearson began this game with the directors up in the stands. He watched, upstairs but powerless, as his team took the game to Arsenal but slipped 2-0 behind. Arsenal had not played well – they did not all evening - and Pearson sensed their vulnerability. He spent the second half pitch-side.

The Leicester players found a new level in the second half, pulled one goal back and had chances to equalise. The travelling fans clearly support Pearson and on this evidence the players do too. They left north London with nothing but the encouragement that they still have it within themselves to play well. Pearson said afterwards that there have been too much good performances in defeat, which is true, but with good performances there is still some hope.

Arsenal’s weekend was traumatic in a different way and all they needed was a result. That is what they got, ensuring that Saturday’s defeat did not turn into anything more damaging. But there were few other positives to take from an anxious performance. Mesut Ozil had his moments, and was involved in both goals, but the team did not convince at either end of the pitch. Arsene Wenger admitted to Pearson at full-time that his team had been “lucky” to take all three points, and he was right.

Arsenal might well have been surprised by how well the first half went, given how flatly they started it. They looked, frankly, like a team who had been the wrong end of a physically and emotionally draining derby just three days before. If they had been floored by Harry Kane’s one-two punch on Saturday afternoon then here, back at home, they were still trying to get back on their feet.

Wenger, quite understandably, wanted to put some more pace in a team that had been out-run by Tottenham on Saturday. So Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey, ineffective at White Hart Lane, dropped to the bench. Alexis Sanchez came back in to lead the line, providing a more mobile focus than Giroud ever will.

The problem was that Leicester City arrived especially determined to slow them down. Nigel Pearson has had an unusual week to say the least and he desperately needed a result. His gamble, hoping to save his job, was a new system – 5-4-1 – and a first appearance of the season for Matthew Upson. It nearly worked.

For the first 30 minutes, and for the whole second half, Leicester were tactically perfect. Upson, Robert Huth and Wes Morgan were impenetrable at centre-back, while Riyad Mahrez was electric on the counter-attack, twice nearly put Leicester ahead.

Laurent Koscielny (right) celebrates with Mesut Ozil

Unfortunately for Pearson, their inefficiency extended to both penalty areas, and that is why they are where they are. Mesut Ozil, quiet on Saturday, had been growing into the game and had Arsenal’s first real chance when he stabbed a shot towards the bottom corner, forcing Mark Schwarzer to tip it round the post. Ozil curled the corner in, Koscielny lost Morgan and volleyed the ball in.

It was disappointing to look so solid and then concede so meekly, and the second was just as bad. It was four minutes before the break, with Leicester still threatening on the counter. But Jeff Schlupp lost the ball to Hector Bellerin and Arsenal moved the ball briskly across to Ozil in space. With his left foot, from 25 yards, Ozil shot, Schwarzer spilled it and Walcott finished.

Leicester had not been far away with their first-half efforts, though, and they restarted the game with the energy of a side trying to make up for something. Maybe it was the inspirational presence of the reprieved Pearson down on the touchline, but they had more conviction and spirit in the second half, and threw everything they had at Arsenal.

It was clear quickly enough that they could cause Arsenal problems, with the movement of £9million Croatian Andrej Kramaric increasingly elusive. He ghosted into the right-hand channel and forced Ospina into a sharp save. Mahrez’s cross had to be headed off the line by Per Mertesacker and Arsenal could not say that they had not been warned.

Mark Schwarzer can't keep out Walcott's strike

But the complacency cost them and, 16 minutes into the second half, they finally conceded. Cambiasso crossed from the right, no-one cleared it and when the ball fell to Kramaric a tired Sanchez, who did not look like someone who had been well-rested, could not close him down. Kramaric angled the ball into the bottom corner and the game was back on.

Leicester pushed on for an equaliser and they came close. Mahrez, the comfortable ma of the match, skipped away from tackles and curled a shot just beyond the far post. Then he broke and fed Kramaric, who tried to chip Ospina only for the Colombian keeper to stand his ground and catch it.

Leonardo Ulloa and David Nugent were thrown on at the end but Leicester had run out of energy. Arsenal never enjoyed this frayed second half, not least when Aaron Ramsey limped straight down the tunnel just nine minutes after coming on, with his third hamstring injury of the season, but they hung on. It was not much fun for them, but neither was Saturday.