City 1 Arsenal 3
Report by Colin Hall
Leicester City’s attempt to bounce back from their midweek Europa League exit proved notably unsuccessful, as visitors Arsenal coasted to a 3-1 victory at the King Power Stadium.
The physical and mental frailties that have afflicted the Foxes so often during the past year and beyond are now in serious danger of derailing the push to remain in the top four of the Premier League.
As in the previous game against Slavia Prague, City looked completely bereft of inspiration and leadership, despite a starting line-up on this occasion featuring TEN full internationals.
In addition, with Harvey Barnes and Jonny Evans now added to an already-lengthy injury list, the depth of the squad is being tested to – and possibly beyond – its limits.
The home side had looked to have put their troubles behind them when Youri Tielemans gave them the lead with a fine solo goal after only 6 minutes.
That should have been the cue for City to seize the initiative and take the game beyond a visiting side resting several key players after their own midweek exertions.
Instead, the team sat deep and looked hesitant and tentative, more like a team fearing relegation to the Championship than one with Champions League aspirations.
Arsenal sought to exploit such tensions wherever possible, with Pepe playing a particularly prominent role in their attacks, as he had done during his team’s previous visit in the Carabao Cup tie earlier in the season.
The winger thought he had earned a penalty when being fouled by Wilfried Ndidi, but a VAR review ruled the offence had taken place outside the box.
City were limited to sporadic breaks, during which Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho both tested visiting keeper Leno from long range.
But just when they appeared to have weathered the Arsenal storm, they conceded a soft equaliser. Pepe drew yet another foul from stand-in left-back Luke Thomas and Willian’s free-kick found David Luiz to head home without challenge.
The Gunners then suffered a blow of their own, with midfielder Smith-Rowe being forced off injured. However, his absence did not affect the pattern of the game, with the visitors continuing to press the City defence.
On the stroke of half-time, Ndidi, in a moment of panic, raised his arms to block a shot from the ever-dangerous Pepe. Although referee Tierney missed the incident, the VAR did not, and Lacazette sent Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way from the spot.
To little surprise Thomas, who had endured a torrid time, collecting a booking in the process, was replaced at half-time by Marc Albrighton, with Ricardo, rather than Timothy Castagne, switched to fill the gap at left-back.
Minutes later, though, City suffered a setback which may have devastating consequences for their season, as Barnes damaged his knee while chasing a wayward Tielemans pass and was forced to leave the field on a stretcher.
While the home side were still reeling, Pepe put the outcome of the game beyond their reach by finishing off a move which sliced open the City defence. In truth, this goal was no more than his performance deserved.
With the Foxes still shellshocked by the loss of Barnes, Arsenal were able to see out the remainder of the game in some comfort.
The only serious threat to their goal during the half came deep into stoppage time, when Iheanacho blazed wastefully over from close range. By then, City woes had deepened further with Evans being forced to limp off with a calf injury.
In theory, City’s fate during the final third of the league campaign still remains within its own hands, with games remaining against seven of the league’s bottom eight clubs. But in reality, individual and collective form is sinking fast – especially in the once all-conquering attack – and confidence has been shattered.
As happened last season, a cloud of self-pity has descended on the club in the wake of a constant stream of injuries.
Unless the management can somehow find a way of dispelling that cloud, City are doomed to suffer a recurrence of the disappointments that befell them during 2020.
City (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; Castagne, Evans (Amartey 69), Söyüncü, Thomas (Albrighton h/t); Ricardo, Ndidi, Tielemans, Barnes (Ünder 51); Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Daley-Campbell, Fuchs, Mendy, Choudhury, Tavares.
Goal: Tielemans (6) Bookings: Thomas, Tielemans.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Leno, Cedric, David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Tierney; Elneny (Partey 66), Xhaka, Smith-Rowe (Ødegaard 42); Pepe, Lacazette (Aubameyang 83), Willian. Subs not used: Ryan, Bellerin, Holding, Ceballos. Saka, Martinelli.
Goals: David Luiz (39). Lacazette (45 + 2 (pen)), Pepe (52). Bookings: Tierney.
Referee: Paul Tierney VAR: David Coote
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