Danny Welbeck’s injury-time winner against Leicester City was sensational. The strikers return from nearly 10 months out with injury couldn’t have come at a better time for the Gunners, his 95th-minute header giving Wenger’s side a crucial three points in the race for the title.
Few can argue that by that point Arsenal deserved the victory. The further into the second half it got, the more the pressure grew, and once they had the equaliser it looked increasingly like the winner would follow.
They may have taken it to the wire, but Arsenal fans, football romantics and headline writers everywhere were no doubt delighted by the impact of the returning England striker, a perfect example of the inherent storybook qualities of the Premier League.
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The goal gave the game it’s dramatic high point but it also helped take the pressure off Wenger and his side. For if they had failed to beat Leicester at home, particularly with the away side down to 10 men, there is no doubt old concerns regarding the north Londoners bottle would have resurfaced.
The fickle nature of Arsenal fans has a tendency to turn on Wenger when tactics fall short, his failure to orchestrate a victory and a performance from his players at the most crucial of times a recurring bone of contention for some.
The media slant too would have dramatically altered, the coverage surrounding the match being far more critical of Arsenal and their manager. How a single goal can change, not just the make-up of the title-race, but the whole feeling around a club.
It’s not that Arsenal played badly of course. Their familiar Emirates swagger had returned, the side passing well and attacking with speed and fluency, and certainly after the 53rd-minute dismissal of Leicester’s Danny Simpson, they showed their class in possession.
But for all their bluster and intent, it still remains that Theo Walcott’s equaliser in the 70th minute was their first shot on target in the game. Despite the stats weighing heavily in Arsenal’s favour, the Foxes’ mixture of organisation, teamwork and threat on the break were evident for all to see, their half-time lead not massively surprising.
Kasper Schmeichel, both centre-halves and the hugely impressive N’Golo Kante helped with big performances obviously, but in general Leicester’s tactics and attitude were spot on. Claims by some Arsenal fans that they would net three or four against the table-toppers proved wildly inaccurate as they struggled to carve out genuinely clear-cut opportunities.
The home side may have shown improvement compared to some of their more recent performances, but had it not been for the visitors reduction to 10-men early in the second-half, it’s entirely plausible that Arsenal would have struggled to equalise, let alone win the game.
With a full quota of players on the pitch Leicester were in control of the match, Kante in particularlar a midfield tour de force. Along with his team-mates, they allowed Arsenal very little time and space to operate. Ozil was caught on the ball on multiple occasions, wanting far too much time, whilst Sanchez found himself closely marked and became increasingly frustrated.
The increased time and space they gained once they faced 10 men, however, gave them the all important edge come the final third of the game. Hustled and out-fought once again, Martin Atkinson’s decision to send off Simpson had as much to do with baying Arsenal fans as it did to do with the foul itself.
Annoyed with the award of Leicester’s penalty at the end of the first-half, they had also grown frustrated with their side’s efforts to break down the resilient Foxes. All too often have they have seen the team fail to produce when it really matters, the ghosts of disappointments past re-emerging.
And even with Leicester’s heroics this season, they are still a side the fans of Arsenal would expect to beat, particularly at home. They knew the importance of this fixture and could feel the side once again struggling in its efforts.
The fans and players may have celebrated like they’d won the league, but they should be cautious in their delight. Whilst shots, possession and passing statistics look great on paper, you cant quantify guts, fight and mentality.
There’s a huge north London derby on the horizon for Wenger and co’ to think about, one that could go as far in shaping the title-race as this game. Of all the side’s to play from the top four during that ‘Super Sunday’, Pochettino’s side looked the most impressive and have the potential to bring the Gunners right back down to earth.
A failure to produce a good performance against their most bitter enemies would be far worse than a failure to beat this Leicester side, and if they come up short in spirit and drive in that game, the doubters, detractors and boo-boys will be back on Wenger’s case faster than you can say Danny Welbeck.