Leicester 2 Arsenal 5: Tomorrow night’s Champions League duties first, then Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger can forget about his hang-ups with petro-dollar rivals Chelsea and Manchester City this week and refocus on a favourite old enemy.
This emphatic victory against previously unbeaten Leicester City not only keeps Arsenal in the mix, on a weekend when Jose Mourinho’s and Manuel Pellegrini’s sides failed to win, but it also signalled the re-emergence of key players ahead of this Sunday’s visit of Manchester United.
Louis van Gaal’s side will come to north London on top of the embryonic Premier League table and will find themselves up against a team just three points behind, facing a manager and players beginning to believe they are right in this title fight.
Wenger’s passion and calm under pressure aside, Arsenal have Alexis Sanchez back to his best, as his wonderful hat-trick in this game displayed, and in Theo Walcott a player finally showing a regular run in the striker’s role gives Arsenal great options, speed and variety in attack. The danger is Wenger’s insistence on rotating Walcott with the increasingly ponderous looking Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman remains a fine forward and scored Arsenal’s fifth as a substitute in this match after Walcott’s quality finish and Sanchez’s sublime trio undid Jamie Vardy’s opener for Leicester.
Giroud might well get the nod, therefore, in tomorrow’s important Champions League tie against Olympiacos, but there is a sense this is Walcott’s time to shine.
His pace on the ball has always worried defenders and now he is developing conviction in front of goal to give goalkeepers the jitters too.
Asked afterwards if this was his best match since returning from a knee injury in February, the England forward said: “It will be up there. I have always said I want to play up front. When I get the opportunity I can improve and learn the position a little more. The manager has had faith in me and I just want to repay him.”
Walcott and Sanchez work well together, combining their pace and invention. He added: “Alexis is a top-quality player and even when he is not scoring goals he works so hard for us. He tracks back and does a lot for the team. I am sure he is going to flourish now with many, many more important goals. It has been a long time coming, he knows that himself.”
As pleased as Wenger is with his players one feels he is equally glad City and Chelsea are looking increasing fallible and his own side’s stuttering start was not severely punished. The French coach, who said he would rather talk about football than respond to Mourinho’s latest jibe about him being the game’s only manager not under pressure, explained: “Two weeks ago it looked as if Manchester City were running away with it and now it is tight again.
“You have to be consistent and that is what we focus on. The quality of our game is getting better week by week. To come to Leicester, who had not lost, and win in a really convincing way is important for confidence.”
Indeed, Leicester were such a threat they could have won the match inside a frantic opening 15 minutes. Vardy scored with a finish of Thierry Henry quality and hit the woodwork twice.
It was quality on the break and Walcott’s equally deadly finishing that kept Arsenal’s hopes alive as they ended a thrilling first half ahead.
Were it not for Sanchez, Vardy, who scored a late second for Leicester to make it 2-4, could well have been man of the match.
Leicester will have to bounce back with tricky away matches at Norwich and Southampton to follow, but they seem to have the manager and players to ride out the storm and prove their good start to the season will not dissipate.
As Ranieri stated, losing to an Arsenal side in this form is no shame. The Italian added: “When you play Arsenal you think you can lose, but it is important how you lose.
“Arsenal can win the title. Their players and squad is very good, but to win the title you need a little bit of luck too.”
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2):
Schmeichel 7; De Laet 6, Huth 6, Morgan 7, Schlupp 7; Mahrez 5, Kante 6, Drinkwater 6 (Kramaric 78, 6), Albrighton 5 (Ulloa 64, 5); Okazaki 5 (King 45, 6), Vardy 8.
Subs not used:
Schwarzer, Simpson, Inler, Dodoo.
Cech 7, Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Flamini 5 (Arteta, 21, 6), Cazorla 6; Ramsey 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 77, 6), Ozil 8, Sanchez 9; Walcott 7 (Giroud 80, 7).
Subs not used:
Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Chambers.
Craig Pawson 7/10
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