Sunday, September 27, 2015

Leicester's attack helps Arsenal click into gear

It had been a stuttering start to the season for Arsenal, so a trip to the King Power stadium to face the only unbeaten team in the could have been unwanted, with Arsenal needing to get back on track in the league following the defeat at Chelsea. The midweek cup win at White Hart Lane raised the spirits, but there were still questions about strikers, Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal’s ability to find the net.
In a cracking game in the East Midlands, Leicester City’s positive style of play and attacking intent did cause the Gunners a few problems, but it ultimately played into Arsenal’s hands as the visitors secured a thumping 5-2 victory. Arsene Wenger’s team had to battle through a frantic first half, and were inches away from going 2-0 down before equalising to make it 1-1, but settled in the second half and played some fluent and beautiful football.
The frenetic opening period was sparked into life when Jamie Vardy opened the scoring on the break, peeling off the back of Per Mertesaker to sprint away and finish. With Arsenal being behind, the threat of Vardy’s pace on he break seemed more pressing, but with Leicester holding a high defensive line themselves, Theo Walcott was having a similar amount of space behind the defence to run into.
Vardy was close to scoring with a header that looped onto the post as Leicester continued to be attacking and adventurous, but Arsenal broke away after Santi Cazorla calmly played the ball out of the Gunners’ penalty area. Ozil and Alexis were involved in the move that finished with Cazorla’s precise through ball that allowed Theo Walcott to burst through and slide the ball into the net via the post.
Arsenal did regain a measure of control on the game following the equaliser, but it was still a lively match with both teams looking to attack at pace. Walcott continued to threaten, but the open game was also beneficial to Alexis Sanchez. Following his virtually non-existent pre-season, it was inevitable he might have a slightly slow start to the campaign, but the hope was always that one goal would open the floodgates for the Chilean. I, like many other fans, didn’t want to think there was a growing problem with his goal drought, but it was a concern that he hadn’t hit the net yet this season. That’s why Alexis looked so relieved and pleased to have the ball pop up to him at the back post at the King Power with the goalkeeper on the ground, allowing him to tap Arsenal into the lead in the first half.
Having turned the game around, suddenly the match situation played into Arsenal’s hands. Leicester, already keen to get players forward, committed to attack to try and get back in the game, and Arsenal were able to pick off the opposition as Cazorla and Ozil became increasingly influential in the second half to release the runners into space. Mesut Ozil was the architect of Arsenal’s third goal with a delightful chip over the Leicester defence, which Alexis chased in and flicked the header over the onrushing goalkeeper.
Buoyed by the confidence of his earlier goal, Alexis was charging around the pitch, and the leap for the header was majestic.
With the score at 3-1, Petr Cech wasn’t really called upon as Arsenal seized full control of the match. The tempo slowed, which had to happen after the crazed pace of the first half. But even with the game almost won, Alexis Sanchez kept up his remarkable intensity. Whereas most things he had done this season had looked forced and like it took a lot of effort out of him, suddenly everything was looking natural and easy. It was no surprise that he completed his hat-trick before his afternoon’s work was done.
Receiving a throw-in from Nacho Monreal, Alexis took one touch to spin the ball around the full-back before finding the bottom corner from 30 yards. It was brilliant, and emphasised how he was back in the groove.
Leicester did find a second wind before the end of the game as Petr Cech had to make some sharp saves. One world class stop from point-blank range ultimately went unrewarded as Jamie Vardy collected the ball and curled in his second goal. Leicester have made a habit of coming back from two goals down this season, but 4-2 was too much for them. 
Olivier Giroud, who had missed an easier chance moments earlier, swept in a fifth goal in injury time to complete the 5-2 victory. It also ensured that Arsenal doubled the number of goals they’d scored in the whole Premier League season in one afternoon at the King Power.
It’s a slight concern to have conceded two goals, but generally it was an excellent Arsenal performance, particular having been 1-0 down. It’s also hard to be too worried about that when it contributed to such an entertaining game. Arsene Wenger got his team selection right by starting Theo Walcott up front as Walcott was able to exploit the spaces in the home defence with clever runs and improved link-up play.
To have Olivier Giroud also come off the bench and score means that Arsenal now have strikers beginning to find their feet and find the net. But all the goal scoring headlines should be about Alexis Sanchez. With Manchester United coming to the Emirates next Sunday, he’s found his shooting boots at the right time. 
The league table is getting very bunched up, and even after an indifferent start for both Alexis and the team, a win next week would bring Arsenal level with the current league leaders. With a lot of unpredictable results in the Premier League, a decent run of form off the back of Saturday’s win would put the Gunners in an excellent position as the season enters the autumn. If that happens, they’ll have to thank Leicester for such an open and entertaining game that allowed the awesome Alexis Sanchez to kick start his season.