Arsenal produced another fightback as three goals in 17 minutes either side of half-time gave them a 3-1 victory at Leicester to prevent the Foxes moving second.
After two late goals earned them a dramatic Europa League win over Benfica in midweek, Arsenal had to come from behind again to earn three points at the King Power Stadium.
Youri Tielemans put Leicester ahead (6) with a good finish into the bottom left corner, thanks to some wide-open, poor Arsenal defending, but the visitors levelled through David Luiz’s clever header from a Willian free-kick (39).
VAR had earlier correctly denied Arsenal a penalty for Wilfred Ndidi’s nudge on Pepe, just outside the box, but the two were involved again as Pepe’s shot struck Ndidi’s hand in the box, spotted by VAR, allowing Alexandre Lacazette to score from the spot (45+2).
Pepe extended Arsenal’s lead with a simple close-range finish from Willian’s centre (52), in a game where both sides felt the impact of Thursday’s Europa League games as Emile Smith Rowe, Jonny Evans and Harvey Barnes all went off injured.
The result means Leicester stay third, with Chelsea six points behind but with a game in hand, while Arsenal are back in in the top half.
Leicester: Schmeichel (6), Castagne (6), Soyuncu (5), Evans (5), Thomas (4), Ndidi (5), Tielamans (6), Pereira (5), Iheanacho (5), Barnes (6), Vardy (5)
Subs: Albrighton (6), Under (5), Amartey (5)
Arsenal: Leno (7), Soares (6), Mari (7), Luiz (7), Tierney (7), Elneny (6), Xhaka (7), Willian (8), Smith Rowe (6), Pepe (8), Lacazette (7)
Subs: Odegaard (7), Partey (6), Aubameyang (NA)
Man of the match: Nicolas Pepe
How much-changed Arsenal showed character again
Leicester had won six of their seven Premier League games immediately following a European fixture this season, while Arsenal had lost six of their seven such games, and this contest was following that trend early on.
After Leicester won the ball just inside Arsenal’s half, Tielemans ran unopposed into the penalty area, with Jamie Vardy occupying the attention of Pablo Mari and Luiz on the left of the box, and struck into the bottom left corner from 12 yards. It was a clinical finish from the Belgian, but Arsenal rolled out the red carpet with some woeful defending.
Tielemans thought he’d given away a penalty just minutes later for a foul on Pepe, but VAR showed that it was in fact Ndidi’s contact that brought the Arsenal man down, just outside the penalty area.
Arsenal showed character to force their way back into the game – Pepe had the beating of full-back Thomas on the right, while Willian began to impress after receiving criticism recently for his performances – and they got their leveller with six minutes of the half remaining.
After earning several free-kicks on the right flank, Arsenal finally got their delivery right, as Luiz peeled off the Leicester defence to latch onto Willian’s square cross, heading into the bottom left corner past Kasper Schmeichel.
Progress is rarely linear with Arsenal – Smith Rowe was forced off moments later with a groin injury – but they went into the half ahead thanks to another correct VAR call. Pepe’s shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Ndidi in the box, initially not spotted before referee Paul Tierney and VAR David Coote intervened, before Lacazette converted from the spot.
After Barnes was brought off on a stretcher with a worrying knee injury, Arsenal opened up a two-goal cushion early in the second half.
Man-of-the-match Pepe fed sub Martin Odegaard, who slipped Willian in at an angle on the left byline, and his centre deflected off Tielemans and into the path of the waiting Pepe to turn home from a couple of yards out.
Pepe has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League starts for Arsenal, as many as in his previous 21 starts in the competition combined, while Willian has now made more assists than any other Arsenal player this season with five.
Leicester made four changes from the midweek defeat by Slavia Prague; Castagne, Pereira, Barnes and Iheanacho came in, replacing Amartey, Under, Choudhury and Albrighton, were are all on the bench.
Arsenal made no less than six changes from the midweek win over Benfica; Cedric Soares, Mari, Elneny, Willian, Pepe and Lacazette came in, replacing Bellerin, Gabriel, Ceballos, Saka, Odegaard and Aubameyang. Thomas Partey remained on the bench, while it was Willian’s first start in the Premier League since December 19.
Evans was then brought off with another injury – only Crystal Palace (nine) have more current injuries than Brendan Rodgers’ side (eight) – as Leicester struggled to get Vardy in the game to form a comeback of their own.
Arsenal saw out the game professionally, with sub Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang firing just wide from the edge, showing their character and the benefit of rotation with a busy schedule ahead.
Leicester, who were knocked out of the Europa League in midweek, now have a task on their hands to remain in the top half with a growing injury list, hoping to avoid the collapse of 2019/20 which saw them fall out of the Champions League places despite a large cushion at the end of winter.
What the managers said…
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers: On Barnes injury: “It’s not good news, it looks like he needs to go in for an operation, so it will be a minimum of six weeks. I believe it’s around his cartilage. He had a clash of knees a few weeks ago, so it has just been irritable. Today he’s had a challenge right on it, and it has just made it worse.
“He’ll need that repaired. He’s had niggles with it, that’s why we tried to recover him on Thursday, but unfortunately it’s a bad one for him, and a huge blow for us.
“We’re down to the bare bones, we’ve carried it all season and the players have been great. It’s absolutely fair enough. My players to this point have been brilliant, but when you’re missing the influential players and can’t change, it makes it difficult.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “I am happy with the performance of the team, the character, composure we showed. Coming here after a very short turnaround, and going down very early, but I think we showed really good moments, we were solid, and dominated the game, and overall deserved the win.
“I think the team is clearly improving, taking a direction that I like – all the time I say the same: it’s about consistency. We are still giving things to the opponents, against Benfica and again today, and that’s something we have to eradicate to give ourselves the best possible chance.”
- Leicester have suffered consecutive defeats across all competitions for the first time since December, while they last lost two in a row at the King Power Stadium back in October (a run of three).
- This was Arsenal’s first away victory against a team starting the day in the top three of the Premier League table since January 2015 (2-0 v Manchester City) – they were winless in their last 14 such games coming into today (D3 L11).
- Alexandre Lacazette has converted all five of his penalties for Arsenal across all competitions, while only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13) has now netted more goals for the Gunners than Lacazette (11) this term.
Leicester now go to Burnley on Wednesday at 6pm, live on Sky Sports Premier League, before going to Brighton on Saturday, March 6 at 8pm, live on Sky Sports Premier League.
Arsenal face Burnley on Saturday, March 6 at 12.30pm in the Premier League, before going to Olympiakos in the Europa League last 16 first leg on Thursday, March 11 at 8pm.