Surging Arsenal reclaim fourth as Alexandre Lacazette penalty sees off Leicester

Arsenal 2-0 Leicester City: The visitors responded well to Thomas Partey’s early header but Lacazette’s second-half penalty settled the contest and sealed a fifth straight win for the Gunners

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Emirates Stadium
Sunday 13 March 2022 23:14
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<p>Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his penalty alongside the outstanding Martin Odegaard </p>

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his penalty alongside the outstanding Martin Odegaard

March was always going to be a make of break period for Arsenal’s season. And though with 12 games still to play the race for Champions League football is far from over, their fifth consecutive Premier League victory carried something of note.

Maybe not a statement, for this 2-0 victory over Leicester City was relatively straightforward, a far cry from the tense affair of last season’s 1-0 defeat at this venue. But certainly, a run that was only matched by Unai Emery’s 22-game unbeaten run in 2018 carries greater promise of riches than that subsequently provided. Fourth spot, after 24 hours out of their possession, is theirs once more. There’s every chance they won’t relinquish it again.

Mikel Arteta has been credited with creating an environment where the youth are taking responsibility. On Sunday night, it was the older guard who decided the game. Thomas Partey, aged 28, gave Arsenal a first-half lead with a header from a corner, before 30-year-old Alexandre Lacazette converted a second-half penalty to confirm a result and register his first goal of 2022.

With Sportswashico taking place out west, north London felt like its own little haven, provided you didn’t catch the name of the stadium on the way in. Nevertheless, as far as exclusively football matters, Arsenal are in rude health: now 28 points won of the last available 33 and Tottenham Hotspur tripped up by Manchester United on Saturday night, the more desirable result even with rivalries to consider. The drop down a position and two-point deficit to United almost immediately overturned to reclaim their original position by a point while still holding three games in hand.

They will tick over one of those on Wednesday against Liverpool, the meat in the sandwich of three matches in seven days, culminating with Aston Villa at lunchtime on Saturday. This here on Sunday could not have been a simpler assignment.

That’s not so much a reflection of Leicester, more their circumstances: sitting 12th in the Premier League, some 13 points off Europe and with the Europa Conference League a very real shot at a second piece of silverware. While they’ll aim to at least finish in the top half, few can begrudge a shift in priorities.

As such, with a 2-0 lead to protect at Rennes on Thursday, Brendan Rodgers left Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi on the bench. Better still for Arsenal was the injury to Jamie Vardy, who is one away fror equalling Wayne Rooney’s record of 12 league goals against Arsenal.

A lack of structure in the middle and lesser bite up top was especially evident in the opening exchanges. Martin Odegaard was able to conduct wave upon wave of attacks. Light blue shirts were largely observers during this period, particularly when Gabriel Martinelli whipped into the near post for Partey to nod in at the near post between Luke Thomas and Ricardo Pereira.

Leicester were undone from another corner as Partey opened the scoring

But Leicester grew into the game, especially when they realised there was joy to be had with simple balls over the top to their wide men, Harvey Barnes and Martin Albrighton. Ben White made an important tackle on James Maddison after Aaron Ramsdale had palmed a pull-back into an open penalty area, then the goalkeeper pulled off a fine save when Albrighton found Barnes or an uncontested header from seven yards out.

Perhaps at another time Arsenal would have re-emerged from half-time wary of being pegged back and might have sat back to preserve their lead at the start of the second half. But these are different times and this is a different Arsenal, even if the faces are the same. They were quick out of the blocks, particularly Martinelli, who did as Bukayo Saka had done in the first half with some lively, direct dribbling.

The second came as a result of this. A free kick won out on the left wing was subsequently delivered into the box by Odegaard. A few ricochets presented White with an opening which was kept out by Schmeichel before Partey cocked his neck and forced a header towards goal. It looked to the naked eye that Thomas’ clearance off the line was a job well done.

However on closer inspection – first by VAR officials, then referee Anthony Taylor – it was apparently Caglar Soyuncu's fingertips had grazed the ball enough to slow it down for Thomas to clear. Lacazette stepped up, stuttered and beat Schmeichel high into the top corner of the goalkeeper’s right.

It made the remaining 31 minutes broadly academic. Leicester threatened once, when Barnes and an isolated Kelechi Iheanacho finally combined with a one-two that would have allowed Barnes to pull one back from six yards had Kieran Tierney not spied the danger from the other side and rushed across to clear.

Beyond the olés as Arsenal nipped the ball around with greater ease once Leicester accepted defeat number 12 of the season, the biggest subsequent cheer came when Emile Smith Rowe was brought on. It was the 21-year-old’s first appearance in a month after contracting Covid and missing the victories against Wolves and Watford. Along with the three points, it was a welcome return at a time when matches are coming up thicker and faster than before, with Arsenal looking more assured of that final Champions League spot with each passing week.

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