This week has felt like something of a tipping point for Arsenal. Having conspired to struggle their way to a point in midweek against Vitoria, expectations were low going into the Saturday evening clash at the King Power stadium.
A hint of a plan
For an hour or so, Arsenal threatened to defy those expectations. They started tentatively, as teams out of form and low on confidence tend to do, but looked threatening on the counter. First Hector Bellerin broke into the box following a sweeping move across the pitch but his end product was lacking, and then another swift counter saw Alexandre Lacazette curl just wide when a striker of his abilities should really have scored.
This was clearly the game plan- absorb the Leicester City pressure, and launch counter attacks with the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the left and Bellerin down the right. In the first half, it worked well enough to suggest Unai Emery had the right idea. But that is about as much praise as can be given to Emery’s system and the subsequent performance.
Contrast in direction and performance
Leicester, by contrast, played with a confidence and swagger, controlling the game and testing the Gunners without ever fully exposing the defensive frailties so evident for too long now. The most credit that can be given to Arsenal is that the goal, when it did come, didn’t feel quite as inevitable as it has done this season. The problem is that when it did come, the complete lack of response was entirely predictable.
One shot on target the entire game- midway through the first half from Lacazette, comfortably into the arms of Kasper Schmeichel- and no attempts after the 53rd minute, tells its own story. This is an Arsenal side not just underperforming, but with no ideas and no template, paralysed by a lack of confidence and direction every time it steps on the field.
Calls for Emery to be sacked have been growing louder over the last two months, and it genuinely feels like Arsenal have reached a nadir under the Spaniard. It is hard to see how the situation can get much worse, and just as difficult to imagine things getting any better any time soon. With an international break coming up it would seem the ideal time for the board to cut their losses and use the two weeks off to press the reset button- but judging by reports from David Ornstein in The Athletic on Sunday morning, this seem unlikely.
Where next for Arsenal?
The Arsenal hierarchy, inexplicably, believe the team is on the right path. The internal feeling is, apparently, that Arsenal dominated the game up until Jamie Vardy’s 68th minute strike. It’s anyone’s guess as to what game they were watching, but it cannot have been the game against Leicester. Or against Bournemouth. Or Aston Villa. Or Liverpool. Or any fixture from this year that you care to mention. Arsenal aren’t so much on the right path as they are lost on a muddy track in the middle of a forest with trees around them so thick the light fails to penetrate the branches.
Leicester on the other hand are where Arsenal would have expected to be at this stage of Emery’s reign. Playing attractive football, dominating games, and scoring goals for fun, and second in the table ahead of the Sunday afternoon clash between Liverpool and Manchester City. Under Brendan Rodgers the team has been transformed from a boring, frustrating and underachieving side to one full of creativity and youth. Arsenal would do well to look at that as a blueprint given the familiarities with pre-Rodgers Leicester they currently share.
That this result was one many, if not everyone, would have predicted before the game shows the improvement Leicester have made under Rodgers. These are two sides speeding in opposite directions, and this game felt like the point at which they passed each other. The gap between the Foxes and fifth place Sheffield United is 8 points, and it seems a fairly safe bet that they will embark on their second Champions League campaign next season. Equally as safe a bet is that Leicester will continue to improve on and off the pitch. None of that can be said for the Gunners, and the alarm bells have been ringing for some time now- the question is no longer whether they will be silenced, but how much longer can they be ignored?