Considering it was one of the week’s more widely anticipated matches, Arsenal’s game against Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium essentially turned out to be a damp squib. Thankfully, a late winner for the Gunners at least managed to break the deadlock.
Not that it was truly a worthy winning goal; Nacho Monreal took a snapshot that was clearly heading wide before the ball cruelly took a deflection off the chest of Robert Huth and flew into the goal past a despairing Kasper Schmeichel. Prior to that, both teams had struggled to create clear-cut chances although Jamie Vardy and Alexis Sanchez came close.
For the most part though, Leicester were content to soak up pressure and counter-attack, and while Arsenal bossed the possession, they seemed rather toothless when it came to making it count.
The win for Arsenal will go some way towards their goal of securing Champions League football, but it leaves champions Leicester worryingly close to the drop zone, although relegation doesn’t look likely at this stage.
#1 Can Arsenal really secure fourth or even third?
We should be used to the late-season surge by Arsenal at this point given it seems to happen every single season, but they’ve left it especially late this time. Even with this win over Leicester, the Gunners remain adrift of the top four, sitting in sixth place with 60 points. They’re only three behind Manchester United and four behind Manchester City, though, and the two Manchester clubs face off tonight.
With six games to go, Champions League qualification is still a possibility for Arsenal, but their run-in isn’t the easiest by any means. Sunday sees them face their bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur – who need to win to keep their title hopes alive – and after that, it’s fellow Champions League hopefuls Manchester United, led by Arsene Wenger’s old enemy Jose Mourinho.
Their final four games – against mid-tablers Southampton and Stoke, strugglers Sunderland and then a tough one against Everton – look a little easier but by that point, it could all be for nought.
The victory against Leicester gave them three crucial points, but the performance left a lot to be desired – Arsenal laboured despite having the lion’s share of possession, didn’t create many clear-cut chances, and Wenger’s vaunted 3-5-2 formation was unable to truly break down the Foxes’ defence.
They’ll need to play much better than this to get anything from the Spurs and United games and if they don’t, then there’s no way they’ll be in the Champions League next season.
#2 Should Arsenal cash in on Mesut Ozil?
Recent rumours have suggested that German international Ozil could be on his way out of the Emirates this summer, perhaps back to Bayern Munich, a move suggested by German midfield legend Michael Ballack.
Arsenal fans seem divided on losing Ozil, who has almost been speaking out of both sides of his mouth recently – saying he loves Arsenal and is happy there, but also that he’d like to win the Champions League. While Arsene Wenger has gone on record as saying Ozil would be hard to replace, would it be smarter for the Gunners to cash in on the German whose contract ends in 2018?
Judging by his performance against Leicester, I’d say it’s a resounding yes. Ozil was largely anonymous in the game; he saw plenty of the ball but never really in any dangerous areas and as the creative fulcrum of the team, he failed to provide any attacking impetus.
It’s not his first bad performance either – Ozil’s form has been patchy for large stretches of the season and he has come under vicious criticism from the likes of Graeme Souness and Gary Neville.
Given he would command a huge transfer fee even with just one year remaining on his contract, it might be best for Arsenal to cash in now on a player who almost seems to be coasting on his reputation at the minute.
#3 Has the bubble burst for Craig Shakespeare following Leicester’s Champions League exit?
After taking over from the sacked Claudio Ranieri in late February, Craig Shakespeare seemed to be on a roll as the new Leicester boss. Five league wins on the bounce pulled the champions out of danger and they also overcame the challenge of Sevilla to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Since then though, it hasn’t been plain sailing. Not only did Atletico Madrid end their Champions League fairytale but they also haven’t won in their last three league games, drawing with Crystal Palace and losing to Everton and now Arsenal.
While none of the games looked easy, Leicester just never seemed like beating Arsenal last night, although both Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy came close to scoring.
Mustering seven shots with just 31% possession isn’t bad given Leicester’s counter-attacking style, could it be that the honeymoon period is well and truly over for Shakespeare?
Foxes fans should hope not. After this loss, they’re only sitting six points above the relegation zone and while the drop doesn’t seem likely, stranger things have happened. With Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur still in their fixture list, their run-in isn’t the easiest either.
With his job potentially on the line, Shakespeare needs to hope his side can perform better than this in their upcoming game against West Bromwich Albion and get back to their winning ways, and fast.
#4 Did Jamie Vardy have a glimpse of what might’ve been?
Leicester’s star striker Jamie Vardy came tantalisingly close to a move to the Emirates last summer, as Arsenal were willing to match his release clause, but the former non-league player decided to stay with the Foxes and signed a new deal.
Vardy struggled for form early in the season but since Shakespeare was installed as manager, he’s shown glimpses of the brilliance we saw in 2015/16, scoring seven goals in eleven games. He came closer to scoring against Arsenal than anyone else in Leicester’s side when a first half chance saw him hit the side netting.
While his playing style may not have suited Arsenal and their more intricate build-up play, having had Champions League experience now, could you blame Vardy if he were to angle for a move this summer? The argument for staying last season was that Leicester could offer Champions League football but that isn’t the case now.
Whether one of the top four would swoop for Vardy is up in the air, but with Leicester now firmly rooted in the bottom half – and judging by last night they’re unlikely to rise much further – the Foxes may find it hard to hold onto their prized asset for much longer.
#5 Arsenal need a top-class striker if they are to progress
Last night’s telling statistic was probably this: Arsenal had 12 attempts on goal but hit the target just five times, and in the end, they relied on Robert Huth’s chest to steal a victory. While they also lacked the creative spark last night, what they really lack right now is a top-class striker who can bag goals from nowhere.
Based on his performance earlier, Theo Walcott just isn’t that striker. The England international registered just one shot and was completely ineffective against Leicester’s admittedly tough defence. The Gunners had Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck on the bench, but to be frank, neither man has really proven to be a world-class finisher either.
While Arsenal’s goal difference isn’t bad at all – they’ve scored 64 in the league this season – aside from a 3-0 victory over Chelsea back in September, they’ve struggled for goals against the league’s best defences.
Alexis Sanchez is their top scorer with an impressive 24 goals in all competitions, but he isn’t a classic striker and I don’t think it’s wise for Arsenal to rely on his goals as their main source.
Perhaps someone like Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette could make a difference? He’s been a goal machine – the French Harry Kane, basically – over the last three seasons and probably wouldn’t cost a marquee transfer fee either. Regardless, Arsenal cannot afford to put on more toothless displays like last night if they want to get back into the Champions League spots.