In a dominant evening of football, Leicester beat Arsenal 2-0 at the King Power Stadium.
The Foxes came into the game on a superb run of form, four wins in a row since their loss to Liverpool, and then what happened was they proceeded to beat the brains out of a team that was palpably inferior to them in almost every aspect.
That sounds unremarkable, but the reason it’s a big deal is that the team in question was Arsenal, a “big six” side. Leicester against the big six so far this season isn’t all that impressive. They drew with a Chelsea side still finding their feet early in the season, they came to Old Trafford in fine form then played within themselves and got beaten and shut out by Manchester United.
They did beat Spurs straight after that, but Spurs are having a disastrous season and also that it came just after the United loss meant there was no pressure on Leicester. Or rather, no pressure in terms of expectation – because that seems to be what the Foxes struggle with: people expecting them to win, because when they faced Liverpool at Anfield and no one gave them a chance in hell they matched the Reds and only lost to an extremely generous stoppage time penalty.
Still, expectations are tricky to handle. That’s often what sets big teams apart: when people expect them to win, they do. Establishing that is a big job and whilst Brendan Rodgers has made Leicester an electric side that is a genuine delight to watch, he hasn’t really established them as a side that can manage expectations.
Today though, today was different. Brendan Rodgers sent his men out to play Arsenal at their own game. This was not a conservative gameplan like at Old Trafford, this was an aggressive performance. A side who knew they were good and were going to prove it by playing their own game and humbling Arsenal.
Which is exactly what they did from start to finish. Leicester began the game with their foot on the accellerator and it stayed there. They moved so well, with James Maddison drifting between Arsenal’s midfield and defence to constantly wreak havoc. Harvey Barnes tore up and down the left flank, giving Héctor Bellerin hell.
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Wilfred Ndidi was masterful in the middle of the park, aided wonderfully by Youri Tielemans he ran the show. Arsenal had three men in central areas plus David Luiz who could step up and create an overload and yet they never did. And that’s because Leicester were so insistent in their approach that all Arsenal could do was scramble to put out fires and hope to bag something on the break.
And the thing is, they did look like scoring on the break. Not surprising since they had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette moving off Mesut Ozil. In fact Aubameyang did score (but he was offside and got ruled so) and one could argue that Lacazette should have scored at least one as Arsenal looked to strike swiftly.
In your memory, you remembered this game. You had seen it all before; a team like Leicester plays well and attacks but can’t finish, loses their nerve, and gets picked off by a big side who assert their dominance. A predictable script, but one that Leicester did not follow.
Instead of retreating, or panicking, The Foxes simply turned up the pressure. They got better, moving harder and faster, shifting the ball with greater speed. They opened the scoring with a goal so liquid it almost defies belief.
After moving the ball around on the right, Ricardo Pereira fizzes a pass into Harvey Barnes on the edge of the box and the youngster pulls off an outrageous flick into space for the onrushing Youri Tielemans who instantly fires a low ball across the box for Jamie Vardy to slide in his ninth goal in 10 games against Arsenal. A masterclass of movement and passing, making the finish elementary.
They almost replicated this move later in the half as another pass came in from the right for Vardy, but this time the ball was just a bit ahead of him so the Englishman slowed the ball down and instead laid it back to the edge of the box. There James Maddison stepped up and slammed home a stunning toe-poke flying straight into the back of the net leaving Arsenal with no chance.
Brendan Rodgers is working miracles here. Leicester press furiously from the front, but they have a defensive unit that can handle themselves if the ball breaks through their lines. In midfield they have an unreal tackler in Wilfred Ndidi, and an all-around talent like Youri Tielemans to support both defence and attack.
Out wide they have pace and effort in Harvey Barnes, Ayoze Perez and subs like Demarai Gray and Hamza Chaudhury. James Maddison and Jamie Vardy are playing better than they ever have and that’s because of the shape and structure of the side. Maddison has freedom to roam and a litany of targets to find with his passes. There are rumours linking him to Manchester United and the big question is why would he make that move? Right now Leicester are several orders of magnitude better than Manchester United.
The Foxes are currently second in the league, just five points behind league leaders Liverpool (albeit the Reds have a game in hand). At the start of the season their aim was just to try and crack the top six. Not only have they cracked the top six, but they’ve split the top four in two as well and are now, without question, the third-best side in the league.