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Danny Welbeck’s last-gasp winner gives Arsenal win over 10-man Leicester

Danny Welbeck heads the winning goal for Arsenal in the last seconds of injury time to defeat Leicester City. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/for the GuardianDanny Welbeck heads the winning goal for Arsenal in the last seconds of injury time to defeat Leicester City. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/for the Guardian

Not so fast, Foxes. Just when Leicester thought they’d got out of the current mini-run – three matches many had predicted might decide their season – Arsenal pulled them back in. Reduced to 10 men after Danny Simpson’s sending off, Claudio Ranieri’s tenacious Foxes were reeled in by the home team in a thrilling final burst of attack versus defence. Goals from Theo Walcott and the returning Danny Welbeck in the final seconds handing the home team a 2-1 win that introduced another twist to an in-out season.

Niggly, awkward, comfortable at times, horribly stretched at others, for Leicester a point here against Arsenal would have the three Premier League games many suggested would decide – or derail – Leicester’s title push have brought seven points from nine. As it is they remain top of the table, and will take heart from their feistiness and spirit against the head here. As will Arsenal, who struggled at times against well-drilled, physically tough opponents, but kept pushing to the last and probably deserved victory in a game that was, sadly, dominated by some slightly debatable refereeing calls from Martin Atkinson

On a bright, chilly, finger-numbing afternoon Arsenal had kicked off in an unusually febrile atmosphere at the Emirates. Understandably so, for a match that seemed likely to decide one way or another how their own extended title run-in – or otherwise – is likely to pan out.

Arsène Wenger has suffered what looked like a blow of kinds before kick-off with the news that Per Mertesacker would replace the injured Gabriel: the slowest, least mobile top-class defender in the league against a team with the joint-fastest striker in Jamie Vardy, and extreme pace on the counterattack in its front six.

In front of the defence the return of Francis Coquelin for his first Premier League start since November offered the promise of a little extra protection. There was some cheer also in the presence of Welbeck on the bench for the first time since last April.

Leicester simply came out like Leicester, the same team that had won so brilliantly at the Etihad Stadium, a team with just two changes from the 5-2 defeat at home to Arsenal in the autumn The changes to Leicester since then have been more about tone and texture, with a concerted re-drilling of the defence, and a general tightening up in front Leicester came here having conceded two goals in five matches, during which they’ve played Manchester City, Liverpool and tottenham.

Özil was in the game immediately, as he often is at the Emirates, picking up the ball in a pocket of space on the right and feeding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who crossed to the far post when might have tested Kasper Schmeichel’s early resolve. From the corner the improbable figure of Alexis Sánchez rose like an action man hurled form an upstairs window and headed just wide.

Otherwise Leicester settled into their familiar deep black-shirted double-bolt away from home, with N’Golo Kanté snapping into tackles and Danny Drinkwater, understated general of this team, putting his foot in once or twice. Leicester, fairytale kings, are no strangers to the arts of rotational fouling against the better teams.

Aaron Ramsey lost a 40-yard sprint with Schmeichel, put through on goal beyond an unusually high Leicester line. For Leicester Christian Fuchs began to get forward a little on the left and with 16 minutes gone the visitors had the first clear chance of the game, Marc Albrighton making progress on the right and floating a cross in for Vardy to leap above Héctor Bellerín and head down. Petr Cech saved low on his line.

Wes Morgan loomed into view to block Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross after Arsenal’s right-winger had robbed Fuchs. Olivier Giroud headed over from a corner under some pressure eight yards out.

Otherwise there was a caginess here, with Arsenal wary of the Foxes fast-breaking rope-a dope tactics, and Leicester playing smart and a little loose in the clinches. Shirts were grappled, runs blocked. Ranieri has insisted on his own hands-off tactical role with this team. But there can have been few more Italian Premier League table-toppers than this canny Leicester with its deep-lying Wes-anaccio defence, its one-to-11 tactical discipline.

For a while in that first half Kanté pretty much ran the game in midfield, snapping back to dispossess Sánchez and Özil, using that extraordinary acceleration to snap and bite into loose balls. Eight minutes before half time he took the ball and curled in beautiful dipping shot that Cech tipped over. At times this season Kanté must have been tempted to scratch his head and look around a little baffled. Premier League? Really? Is that all you’ve got?

Leicester’s goal, when it came, came from where Leicester’s goals come. With half time looming they broke down the right, Kanté snapping into a heavy collision with Laurent Koscielny 40 yards out, the ball breaking to Vardy. His jink into the box ended in a tumble over Nacho Monreal’s leg. There was only slight contact. It was a poor attempt at a tackle, half turning away. Vardy had a choice either to hop up over him or fall over the leg that was left. He took the latter option: scarcely a foul, but always likely to be given as a penalty.. Vardy got up and spanked the ball low past Cech.

Arsenal’s fans were incensed with a referee who has often seemed to save his weakest moments for their team. Just before Leicester broke Morgan had run straight through the back of Özil on the edge of his own box. Atkinson waved play on. It should have been called a foul There was, though, an entire pitch-length passage of play before the goal after that.

Koscielny, who had suffered a dead leg, was replaced by Calum Chambers at halftime as Arsenal emerged with greater purpose, Ramsey shooting just wide of the right hand post running across goal, and Giroud an Özil putting themselves about a little more in front of the Leicester defence.

And 10 minutes into the second half, the landscape changed abruptly as the referee showed Danny Simpson a second yellow card for a limp tug on Giroud’s arm as he turned. It was a foul certainly. A second yellow, to go with one earned three minutes earlier for a late tackle on Sánchez, was perhaps a broader – and therefore also incorrect – response to Leicester’s continued niggly fouls. Three minutes later Kanté was booked for another, pulling back Özil cynically as he looked to break. Later Drinkwater got away completely with a terrible flying lunge into the back of Ramsey that might have been another red. Not the greatest day for a referee who was barracked relentlessly by the home fans.

Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki left the field as Ranieri bedded his team in for the onslaught, which came a little vaguely at first. Sánchez began to figure a little more on the left, without ever looking quite right, his bursts still curtailed. Walcott found some space on the other wing, and it was from that side the equaliser came with 20 minutes to go. Bellerín found time to whip an accurate ball on to Giroud’s head. His lovely little cushioned nod down found Walcott in space, the finish was assured.

After which Arsenal pressed and pushed and huffed and created a series of half-chances and semi-openings, before a wild final flurry of missed openings. With five minutes left Mertesacker somehow failed to score from eight yards out, picked out by Özil’s lovely flighted pass, but tickling his header just wide under no pressure at all. Moments later Giroud turned and shot inside the box, only for Schmeichel to produce a wonderful one-handed save. Enter: Welbeck, and a final twist that leaves the Foxes still top, but Arsenal very much back on their tails. – theguardian –

 

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