LEICESTER CITY 3 ARSENAL 1
Match Report by Paul Weston
I hate to say it but I did not look forward at all to going to City’s last home match as I drove my usual 2.5 hours from Suffolk. This season has drawn to a close with a sense of frustration and disappointment. When going to a City football match there is usually the thrill of what might happen and a hope to see some exciting play to lift the spirits. After many home games and the totally inept performance by players and manager against West Ham I held no hope for the match against Arsenal who were belatedly giving Arsene Wenger a good send off.
And what of our manager? After an encouraging start he had somehow managed to suck the spirit and energy out of our team. Who knows whether it is his methods or the players unable or unwilling to play his way but the performances had recently been awful and so, so boring. The amount of injuries stacking up and a suspension have not helped his cause either so the cupboard was rather bare for team selection.
Against this backdrop the match seemed secondary. Rumours of Puel losing his job had been rife for weeks and, as I write, David Wagner’s name seemed to be the favourite, with Benitez a fans choice. The decision is critical for the future and there is a lack of trust that, if Puel stays, the right sort of players will be recruited for next season. There is also the likelihood of many out-of-favour players returning from loan just to complicate the situation.
The team for the match rather selected itself from who was standing and fit. The main pleasant surprise was to see Jakupovic in goal for his first league game. Why has it taken so long for him to be selected? Simpson returned at right back. Midfield looked vulnerable with Silva and Choudhury in the centre. Iheanacho, Mahrez, Diabete and Vardy provided the attacking threat.
The game that then unfolded was a complete revelation- and how! Yes, City won in the end but it had everything that was not present in the last few months of home matches. There was pace, intensity, movement, great passing, crosses, shots, incidents and saves galore and the crowd responded well. It felt like the City team we knew and love had returned. What had changed? Was it different tactics from the manager or had the players thrown off the shackles after the embarrassing lap of appreciation after the West Ham match?
It took a while for City to get the ball from Arsenal at the start of the match as their crisp passing at first carried on around City players. However, City started to get into the game with Diabate and Fuchs in particular pressing forward. In the 15th minute what looked at first like an overhit cross from Fuchs was brilliantly headed back by Diabate for Iheanacho to shoot home. At last a goal!
City were threading balls through quickly for Vardy and Iheanacho to move onto, instead of passing back and square. Iheanacho broke through the centre and was hauled down by Mavropanos. It was an obvious red card and sending off despite Wenger’s protestations. Perhaps it was compensation for the red card Creswell should have received in the last match? Welbeck, City’s nemesis, was withdrawn in the Arsenal team reshuffle.
Gaps then started to open up as Arsenal were down to 10 men, and City should have taken more advantage, as Vardy, Iheanacho and Maguire all went close. Diabete was a real threat and Fuchs was continually in support. At the same time Arsenal always broke swiftly for goal and were still a threat. Jakupovic commanded his goal well, despite a few early scares, and Arsenal were kept at bay. The first half ended 1-0 to City, although Iheanacho could have had a hat-trick. One outrageous shot from the half way line, when he should have passed to Vardy, showed a level of confidence that was good to see. The crowd responded with cheers at half time, instead of the boos at the previous match.
Silva had what looked like a bad injury just before half time so we were delighted to see him reappear for the second half, especially as he was having a good influence on the game. Arsenal were still playing well, despite their 10 men, and drew level in the 53rd minute when, despite a fine save from Jakupovic, Aubameyang scored from the rebound. However, the City players heads did not drop and, urged on by the crowd, they continued to play with the same intensity as in the first half. It was great to see Choudhury, urged on by the crowd, biting into tackles and growing in confidence as the match progressed.
Gray was brought on for Diabete, who had had a fine match. Demarai Gray has in my opinion, not developed this season. In fact it has seemed that he has lost confidence. However, just having taken the field he burst into the penalty area and was brought down. Vardy scored emphatically from the penalty. 2-1 to City!
The remainder of the match was cut and thrust with Arsenal pressing for an equaliser and City attacking on the break. It was just like old times! Too many times Vardy was just caught offside, though, when another goal was on the cards.
And then in the 90th minute Choudhury played a good ball out to Mahrez on the wing. Up to that time Mahrez had had one of those games when nothing he tried had quite worked out. This time, however, he twisted and turned and drilled the ball across Cech for a stunning goal. 3-1! If that is the last time we see Mahrez in a home game for City then it was a good way to remember him.
The last home match of the season ended with a victory at last and the whole team paraded around the pitch to cheers from the crowd, buzzing after a great game. It had reintroduced the feel-good factor.
Who knows if this performance will affect the Chairman’s decision on the manager’s future which needs to be made soon? It shows that the players, even with significant injuries in the squad, have the ability if they play with energy, passion and speed from the beginning and are prepared to take risks. The question is – is this the Puel way?
Finally, a word about Robert Huth, who was introduced to the crowd before the start of the match. Sadly, he had not been able to play a part in this season and we have missed him. We wish him well with grateful thanks for the significant part he played in City’s greatest ever season.
Leicester: Jakupovic, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs, Diabate, Silva, Choudhury, Mahrez, Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Gray, Dragovic, Iborra, Benalouane, Thomas, Barnes.
Goals: Iheanacho (14), Vardy (75), Mahrez (90)
Arsenal: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Mavropanos, Holding, Kolasinac, Ramsey, Iwobi, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck, Aubameyang. Subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Mustafi, Nelson, Nketiah, Osei-Tutu, Willock.
Goal: Aubameyang. (53)
Sent Off: Mavropanos (20)
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation