Leicester vs. Arsenal: Red hot Chile striker’s back with hat trick

The Gunners netted as many goals in the 5-2 victory over Leicester as in their six previous Premier League games to move into fourth place, three points behind leader Manchester United. Flamini proved a wonderful scoring instructor for the squad when he converted both of his shots in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in the third round of the League Cup. Sanchez took a leaf out of Flamini’s book to open his account with a hat trick on Saturday.

Leicester vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Wenger had a fresh team for the Leicester game as he fielded eight benchwarmers at White Hart Lane (Ospina, Gibbs, Chambers, Debuchy, Flamini, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell) with Mertesacker, Ramsey and Giroud completing the starting lineup. Reintroducing a bit of competition within the squad is a smart way to keep regular starters on their toes while giving second-string players a chance to strut their stuff. I was a bit disappointed that Iwobi did not even come off the bench. Gibbs improved his stock by clearing Kane’s scissor kick off the line whereas Campbell and Chambers did very little to change the manager’s opinion. Chambers cheaply lost possession on Tottenham’s goal and Campbell allowed Rose to shine on our right flank.

On Saturday, the manager made only two changes to the side that lost 2-0 at Chelsea the previous weekend with Mertesacker and Flamini replacing the suspended Paulista and the injured Coquelin in the starting lineup. Leicester got off to a flying start and could have led 2-0 after 18 minutes but Vardy’s header hit the bar. On the subsequent counterattack, Cazorla slipped a through ball to Walcott, who beat Schmeichel to level with a left-footed strike inside the far post.

Healthy competition

The tactical setup favored Walcott’s set of skills with numerous end-to-end plays and slow Leicester centerbacks. Walcott could have also scored in a similar situation in the 42nd, but instead of shielding the ball with his left foot, he attempted a curling shot with his right foot and had his effort blocked by De Laet. In the second half, Walcott got two more chances. He played a one-two with Cazorla to curl a shot wide in the 61st and dribbled past Huth for a tame effort in the 67th.

Finding the net can only boost Walcott’s confidence in his learning process at centerforward. Giroud replaced him for the last 10 minutes. In stoppage time, the Frenchman inexplicably failed to connect with a cross from Cazorla for a tap-in from four yards. But Giroud made amends two minutes later by converting a low cross from Monreal to seal the win. Now we have a healthy competition among our strikers with Walcott, Giroud and Sanchez notching three goals each this season.

Some fans were worried by the Chile forward’s goal drought. But Sanchez finally opened his account in his ninth game this season. He gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead in the 33rd by tapping home a rebound from five yards after De Laet had blocked Walcott’s effort from a Bellerin cross. Sanchez made it 3-1 in the 57th by beating the offside trap to head in Ozil’s pinpoint cross. His third goal came from a Monreal throw-in. Sanchez flicked the ball past Kante to fire a 30-yard strike into the bottom corner in the 81st.

When Cazorla runs the show

Blocks from Leicester defenders prevented Sanchez from adding to his tally. One of his shots took a deflection off Huth to bounce on the roof of the net in the 52nd and De Laet diverted the Chile forward’s header from a Walcott cross in the 54th. Sanchez also showed off his passing skills in the 16th with a through ball for Walcott, who was denied by Schmeichel.

Sanchez arguably produced his best performance this season but there were a few glitches. In the 10th, he turned over the ball to Drinkwater, who fed Vardy for a low drive that struck the post. In the 23rd, he wasted a counterattacking opportunity by taking too much time to send a long ball to Cazorla, clean through on goal. And in the 70th, he attempted a difficult pass for Walcott down the left wing while the better option was a simple pass to an unmarked Ramsey in front of goal. Tactical awareness is definitely an area where Sanchez can still improve.

In midfield, Cazorla ran the show with 78 passes, more than any player at King Power stadium. Surprisingly, he also won 3 of 5 tackles and led all the starting midfielders with 60 percent of duels won, compared to 54.2 for Sanchez, 53.8 for Arteta, 28.6 for Ramsey and 23.1 for Ozil, according to Arsenal’s website.

Ozil’s 5 shot assists

Cazorla has been at the club since 2012 and his good understanding with Walcott showed in the equalizer. He played Walcott in with a similar through ball by the fourth minute but the England international was caught offside. Cazorla then pounced on a loose ball in the seventh minute for a snapshot that was cleared off the line by De Laet. The Spaniard hasn’t scored yet this season but he has become the most important player in our passing game.

Ozil had a decent game with five shot assists, one more than Cazorla and Sanchez. However, the definition of a shot assist is very loose and ranges from a basic pass to a lethal through ball. Ozil’s cross for Sanchez’s header in the 57th was definitely a top assist. But his four other shot assists were pretty benign. Cazorla beat the entire Leicester defense with his through ball for Walcott in the 18th whereas Ozil’s two shot assists for Walcott did not even split the back four. Walcott was in a foot race with De Laet and still had to deal with Huth in the 42nd. Likewise, Walcott faced two defenders again after taking Ozil’s pass in the 67th, bumping off Huth and cutting inside Morgan for a tame effort.

Ozil’s last two shot assists were basic passes. In the 71st, Ozil sent a backpass to Cazorla, whose speculative drive from 30 yards was blocked. Ozil found Ramsey on the edge of the box a minute later. Despite Morgan’s block attempt, Ramsey picked his spot and curled a shot straight at Schmeichel. In my eyes, Cazorla’s low cross for Giroud in stoppage time was a much more valuable pass than any of those four shot assists by Ozil.

Ramsey’s struggle with confidence

With a bit more accuracy, Ozil could have racked up seven shot assists but he overhit his pass for Sanchez in the 17th and made a poor pass in the 53rd despite two outlets. The Germany playmaker also tried hard to add his name to the scoresheet but two of his efforts were blocked and he was denied by Schmeichel in the 90th while a cutback for Giroud seemed the better option.

Both Cazorla and Ozil performed better than Ramsey, who seemed to struggle with confidence. Against Chelsea, Ramsey was on the receiving end of an Ozil cross and refused to take his chance although he was inside the box. Instead, Ramsey tried to dribble his way through the Blues defense and the chance was gone. The same thing happened against Leicester. Ramsey was in a good position for a goal attempt in the 13th but he was too slow to pull the trigger and gave Kante an opportunity for a clean challenge. The turnover led to a fast break and the opening goal for the Foxes. Nothing went Ramsey’s way on Saturday. In the 73rd, his long-range strike hit Walcott before bouncing out of bounds. Ramsey’s inconsistent form should give the Ox more opportunities to start.

Defensively, Arsenal produced a lacklustre performance with 18 turnovers. The first half was almost a disaster. The Gunners recovered in the second half before switching off when Sanchez gave them a 4-1 lead. Flamini was rewarded with a start following his outstanding performance against Tottenham. Unfortunately, the Frenchman pulled his hamstring and was replaced by Arteta in the 21st. In the opening minutes, Flamini’s slow legs were a concern as Vardy ran past him to hit the post with an 18-yard strike.

Mertesacker’s mistakes

Bellerin made tremendous progress in his defensive game last season. But on Saturday, he seemed to have forgotten a bit the basics, allowing too many dangerous crosses from our right flank. The Spaniard also lost his focus on a Leicester counterattack in the 84th. Vardy ghosted past Bellerin to control a long ball from Schmeichel but was denied by Cech. Nobody can ignore Bellerin’s offensive contribution, but I think he needs to find the right balance in his game.

In his second match since his return from a chest infection, Mertesacker showed his limits when the Gunners are playing a high defensive line. Kante dispossessed Ramsey in the 13th to initiate a quick counterattack. Kante found Drinkwater, who bypassed the midfield with a long ball for Vardy. Despite a tight angle, the Leicester striker managed to beat Cech for the opening goal. TV commentators blamed Koscielny for not challenging Vardy but it was Mertesacker who created a mess at the back.

Basically, Mertesacker made the same mistake that led to Monaco’s second goal in the Champions League last season. When Ramsey had the ball, Koscielny was standing near the halfway line while Mertesacker was 15 yards deeper into Leicester territory. That’s the first mistake. If you are a slow defender like Mertesacker, you can’t afford to be in a too advanced position otherwise you will have too much ground to cover on a counterattack. Then when Kante won the ball, Mertesacker showed poor judgement by rushing in front of Vardy for an unlikely interception. That’s the second mistake. Mertesacker left Koscielny in 1 vs. 2 situation. Mertesacker should have retreated to give Flamini and Cazorla a chance to stop the counterattack. When Kante slipped the ball to Drinkwater, Mertesacker realized his mistake but it was already too late. Koscielny kept marking Okazaki to force an angled shot from Vardy in the hope that Cech would make the save. That was the right call. However, Vardy’s curling shot gave Cech no chance.

A stretched squad

The Gunners were lucky not to concede a penalty in the 36th. Okazaki nutmegged Mertesacker, who body-checked the Japan international inside the area. A lapse of concentration from Mertesacker cost Arsenal another goal in the 89th. Bellerin looked bad on that play because he was on the wrong side of Kramaric, whose close-range volley was stopped by Cech. The rebound fell to Ulloa, who set up Vardy for a low curling shot. Bellerin was initially marking Vardy, but he ended up closing down Kramaric because Mertesacker lost track of the Leicester substitute.

Koscielny was a more solid centerback on Saturday, killing two counterattacks with clean tackles on Vardy in the 33rd and Mahrez in the 50th. He also headed out King’s cross for Ulloa in the 65th. The only blemish in Koscielny’s performance was his poor marking when Vardy’s header hit the bar in the 18th.

The Gunners host Manchester United in their next Premier League game. A victory would help Arsenal go level on points with the Red Devils, but I still don’t think it would turn the Gunners into legitimate contenders. We’ve only played seven league games and our squad is already stretched. At holding midfielder, Flamini will be sidelined for a few weeks and Coquelin is a doubt for Sunday’s game. In the playmaking position, our rotating options are limited by long-term injuries to Wilshere and Rosicky. Up front, Arsenal can look irresistible when Sanchez is on fire, but when he’s not, we have to rely on Walcott or Giroud for goals. We simply depend too much on a couple of key players for a solid title bid.