Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted he was impressed by the performance of Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in his side’s 1-1 draw at home to the Foxes on Tuesday night.
Danish international Schmeichel made several impressive saves to keep the Gunners from adding to their solitary goal – the best coming to deny Alexandre Lacazette after the Frenchman was found by Bukayo Saka’s cross.
When asked if he was frustrated by the Gunners’ missed chances, Arteta responded: “Absolutely, but they have a great goalkeeper who saved them in the specific moment that we needed it.
“We should have killed them off, by scoring two, three or four goals. I’m pleased with the way we dominated this type of opponent,” said Arteta, as quoted by the Leicester Mercury. “They have a very good goalkeeper who made the saves.”
The 33 year-old Dane has been in good form since the restart, having saved a penalty in the 0-0 home draw against Brighton and Hove Albion and kept clean sheet against Crystal Palace.
Schmeichel’s heroics meant that when Jamie Vardy restored his two-goal lead over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang late on in the match, his strike was enough to snatch a 1-1 draw and keep the Foxes’ top four destiny in their own hands.
The game was marred by more VAR controversy, however, as Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah was sent off by referee Chris Kavanagh following a lengthy review.
Arteta felt a sense of injustice over the situation, insisting that goalscorer Jamie Vardy should also have seen red for an incident in the first half.
“Leicester City should be down to ten men for a challenge between the 40th and the 45th minute. If we review the incidents, we have to review them all. It should be equal. If Eddie’s is a red card, so is the other one.”
Up next for Arsenal is their first ever trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, while Leicester will be looking to cement their place in the top four when they travel to relegation-threatened Bournemouth.
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It’s fair to say injuries have been desperately unfair to Danny Welbeck in recent years. Suffering four long-term injuries with the Gunners that ranged from 122 days on the sidelines to 238 days out of action, lady luck has failed to shed her fortune on the Mancunian.
All of that means that on Tuesday evening, there was nobody outside of Norfolk that didn’t (at least) show a glimpse of their teeth when Welbeck flung himself into the air and struck a glorious overhead kick beyond a helpless Tim Krul.
As one of football’s nice guys, seeing the 29-year-old score his first league goal since August 2018 after such a torrid spell was a moment to savour. It’s hard not to feel joy for a player so hopelessly beset by injuries that we probably never saw the best, and never will see the best, of his abilities.
It was for Arsenal against West Ham when Welbeck last scored in the Premier League, an injury time third to secure a 3-1 win in Unai Emery’s first victory in charge of the club. In other words, it was a very long time ago.
Onto the actual goal, though: wowzers.
Something in the Watford water is clearly having an impact on Nigel Pearson’s squad, who in their last three home Premier League matches have scored two rather sumptuous overhead kicks. Craig Dawson (mad, right?) and now Welbeck – 67% of goals scored by Watford players since February were overhead kicks.
The intuition and application of the strike along was beautiful, but everything that goal entailed made the strike all the more sweeter. Namely, it might be the goal to keep Watford in the Premier League.
Having been behind against the Canaries, Pearson’s men drew level, but it was that moment of inspiration from Welbeck that sealed the win, and potentially, their top flight status. Those three points opened up a four-point gap – having played an extra game – over Aston Villa and Bournemouth in the bottom three, but with Manchester United and Tottenham to come next for the pair, they might maintain that.
If so, then Pearson will be credited with performing another Great Escape. But, just like Charles Bronson in the 1963 epic, he won’t have survived all by himself.
The help he’s been receiving on the way has been spread throughout the team, although with Welbeck’s intervention, it becomes a more touching affair.
Whether Watford can stay up is far from certain, but the general feeling around the camp now is distinctly more hopeful, and six points against Newcastle and West Ham may very well seal the deal.
Welbeck’s goal will go a long way towards preserving their status. It (basically) condemned a relegation rival to the second tier, and the confidence boost for Welbeck – who’d scored just once for the club in an Carabao Cup clash prior to Tuesday – may be just what they needed.
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It wasn’t long ago when you’d have been hard pressed to pick out a genuine leader and undroppable defender at Arsenal.
But now, the very same players who have received so much criticism are thriving in Mikel Arteta’s new 3-4-3 formation – a system that provides greater protection, shielding and solidity.
The formation has worked well in well recent times, with the north Londoners producing some of their finest performances – and indeed results – of the season so far. But another hugely tough challenge awaited on Tuesday as they welcomed Leicester to the Emirates Stadium.
And while the game ended in partial disappointment for the Gunners, there were a number of positives that can be taken from the performance.
Arteta saw enough from Alexandre Lacazette against Wolves to bring him back into the starting lineup, while Hector Bellerin also came into the team. Once again, the Gunners looked sharp in all areas of the pitch in the first period, playing with great fluidity.
There will undoubtedly have been some concerns from Arsenal fans coming into Tuesday’s game – especially due to Leicester’s attacking threat. With Jamie Vardy’s pace and movement as well as Kelechi Iheanacho’s recent form in front of goal, there will have been some fear that the Gunners’ backline would have been exposed.
Yes, the Gunners weren’t able to keep a clean sheet, but the improvements were there for all to see. The second half saw Arsenal drop off, with the players not playing with the same intensity and desire to get forward – allowing their opponents to gain a stranglehold on the game.
It was a backs to the wall performance in the second period for the Gunners, and in the past, this will have resulted in one, two, three or even four goals being put past them, while the players’ morale would clearly drop.
But not now.
Fatigue will understandably have kicked in in the second half, but even as the pressure began to mount, Arsenal’s defence looked structured and well organised. Following Eddie Nketiah’s sending off, the hosts weren’t able to find a way out, but once again there was a hunger and desire to shut down their opponents and sniff out danger.
Of course, there is still work to do, highlighted by the goal conceded late on. The three central defenders left too much space between them, allowing Vardy to sneak in and tap home with five minutes remaining.
But the foundations are there for Arsenal and Arteta.
The wing-backs have the license to get forward and support attacks, allowing the Gunners to pose a greater threat. Additionally, it also ensures the likes of Aubameyang don’t become isolated and frustrated when out of possession.
However, the wing-backs are also tasked with the responsibility of getting back and closing off the spaces to support the three central defenders. The first half saw the system work to perfection and the Gunners should have gone into the break three or four nil up.
They were that good.
It is a work in progress, of course it is. But the signs are very promising and the direction is clear. It was a gutsy performance from Arsenal – the key for Arteta now is to ensure his side can maintain their concentration for the full 90 minutes in order to build on each game.
A late Jamie Vardy equaliser earned Leicester a valuable 1-1 draw at Arsenal, as the hosts were left ruing Eddie Nketiah’s second half red card.
It was the Foxes who started brightly at the Emirates Stadium, but as so often happens the opening goal went against the run of play. Teenager Bukayo Saka burst forward down the right after collecting Dani Ceballos’ perfectly weighted through ball, before squaring for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to slide home from close range.
Alexandre Lacazette came close to doubling the Gunners’ lead on a number of occasions, and he even put the ball in the net midway through the second half – but his effort was ruled out for a narrow offside.
The Gunners were reduced to ten men when Nketiah saw red not long after coming on, allowing the away side to dominate proceedings in the final quarter of an hour. And the Foxes found an equaliser with just five minutes remaining through Jamie Vardy, who tapped home at the back post after good work from Demarai Gray.
Here’s 90min‘s breakdown of the game…
Key Talking Point
Mikel Arteta once again opted to go with the 3-4-3 formation, but Eddie Nketiah was replaced up front by Alexandre Lacazette. Not only did the Gunners look tight at the back in the first half, they were also a real threat each time they went forward. In fact, it could – and perhaps should – have been two or three nil up by half time.
But their inability to extend their lead in the first half came back to bite them. With Leicester on top in the second half, Nketiah’s sending off allowed the away side to gain an even greater foothold in the contest. In the end, the Gunners weren’t able to cling on – but there were undoubtedly positives to take.
With Nicolas Pepe on the bench again, Saka once again started on the right of a front three – and he was a constant threat. The youngster picked up intelligent positions, while he expertly linked up with the overlapping Hector Bellerin.
Saka plays with a maturity beyond his years, notably his composure in and around the goal is particularly impressive. After driving through the heart of the Leicester defence, Saka would then produce real quality by either unleashing a fine effort on goal, or by looking up and playing a pinpoint pass to a teammate – as he did for the opener.
The future is very bright for this talented teenager.
Key Talking Point
Make no mistake about it, Leicester have had a fantastic season so far. But their form since the restart has left them in a real fight for Champions League football – and while their performance on Tuesday won’t have helped their points tally much, they showed great determination to fight back.
With another star player ruled out through injury in Ben Chilwell, Brendan Rodgers opted to switch to a back three with Ryan Bennett coming into the backline. It was a tactical decision which didn’t really pay off as the three central defenders were caught out of position on numerous occasions in the first half – and the Gunners’ attackers were able to exploit these gaps time and time again.
Rodgers responded early in the second half by bringing on Christian Fuchs, which helped stabilise the team. The Foxes pushed on and dominated the second period and eventually found a late leveller. The extra man will have helped, but the desire to keep pushing until the end will have been pleasing for Rodgers.
Jamie Vardy contributes so much more to this Leicester team than just goals. His overall work rate is astonishing, constantly chasing and harrying his opponents and looking to force them into mistakes.
On the ball, the striker also showed his vision by linking up very well with his strike partner. Equally, drifting out wide to pick up pockets of space, Vardy played a number of pinpoint crosses into the feet of Iheanacho to set him up.
Of course, Vardy’s awareness in front of goal also allowed him to sneak at the back and tap home the equaliser with minutes remaining.
Arsenal next have the small matter of a north London derby on Sunday, before the Gunners host champions Liverpool the following Wednesday.
Leicester, meanwhile, travel to take on Bournemouth on Sunday before hosting Sheffield United at King Power Stadium.
Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has admitted that his players may be benefitting from playing behind closed doors.
The Gunners endured a dismal return to action after football’s enforced three-month breaks because of coronavirus, with back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Brighton. But four wins on the bounce since has propelled the Gunners up to seventh in the Premier League, while Sheffield United were also dispatched to book a Wembley date in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Arteta has now admitted, ahead of the game with Leicester at the Emirates Stadium, that his players may be performing better with the pressure of performing in front of supporters now lifted.
“I think for some of them, yes,” Arteta said, as quoted by the Telegraph. “When they play in front of 80,000 people it is much harder, mostly when they are on the ball or the ball is coming close to them.
“Others need that extra motivation, extra pressure and extra passion to perform better. Every player is different.”
Arteta also commented on the future of Dani Ceballos, who is currently on loan from Real Madrid. As it stands, the Spaniard is due to return to his homeland at the end of the 2019/20 season, but the former Manchester City assistant manager admitted that he wants to extend the agreement between the two clubs.
“Yeah, we are talking to the club,” Arteta added, quoted by the Guardian. “Obviously we don’t own the player, he’s not in our hands so the clubs will need to have a communication and see what we can do.
“I’m really happy with him, the way he’s evolving, and I love how much he likes to play football – the passion he puts into every training session and every game, you just have to see his celebrations. I think he’s evolving in the right way and he’s becoming a really important player for us.”
One player who is unlikely to be at Arsenal next season is Matteo Guendouzi, with the club actively looking to move on the Frenchman after his recent antics at Brighton.