Arsenal 3 Leicester City 1
For Unai Emery the theme of the evening was the perfect 10. It is now 10 victories on the spin in all competitions for his energetically developing Arsenal – seven of them in the Premier League – and the manager owed it all to the maestro in the No 10 shirt.
Mesut Özil had one of those games in which everything comes off for him and he was a joy to watch. When he was withdrawn towards the end, after scoring one and playing a central role in Arsenal’s other two – tapped home by the substitute, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – he received a stirring ovation. For the first time in his Arsenal career, Özil had worn the captain’s armband from the outset. How it inspired him.
Leicester dominated the first 30 minutes or so and they could feel aggrieved about the non-award of an early penalty for hand-ball against Rob Holding, which might have led to the Arsenal defender being dismissed.
But in the end, they were blown away by the attacking vigour of Emery’s team, which Özil helped to orchestrate. His goal that cancelled out Hectór Belleriín’s own goal was a beauty but he was only just beginning. It was Özil’s pass that released Bellerín to cross for Aubameyang’s first and he showcased a wonderful dummy in the build-up to the striker’s second before putting the ball on a plate for him in front of the empty net
Emery had made a pre-game observation. “We are starting matches with maybe less intensity than we want,”he said. “It’s one thing we need to get better at.”
It is fair to say his words went unheeded because Arsenal could and should have been two goals down, at least, inside the opening 20 minutes.
The greatest controversy came on 18 minutes and it really was a mystery as to why the referee, Chris Kavanagh, chose not to penalise Holding for a handball inside the area. The Leicester bench erupted in a mixture of anger and disbelief and, had Kavanagh acted, he would have faced another decision.
Moments earlier Holding had been booked for pulling back Kelechi Iheanacho as Arsenal held their high and risky defensive line and the Leicester attacker threatened to run clear. The Hand of Holding could have added up to a second yellow card. The penalty appeal followed a piece of head tennis from Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy following a James Maddison free-kick and, when Holding jumped with Wilfred Ndidi, he had his hand high and there was a clear movement from it towards the ball.
It was not Arsenal's only let-off in the early running. Arsenal's defensive line disintegrated on another Maddison free-kick, when Alexandre Lacazette sat too deep and played a clutch of blue shirts onside, and Maguire ought to have scored with his header. Instead Bernd Leno sprang to his left to save. Earlier Iheanacho had seen one shot deflect over off Holding and another pushed out by a diving Leno.
Leicester’s breakthrough was undercut by good fortune but nobody could say they did not deserve it. Ben Chilwell’s pace from left wing-back was a feature of the evening and he outstripped Bellerín, which is no mean feat, to reach Ndidi’s pass and cross. The ball spun off Bellerín’s outstretched leg to wrongfoot Leno.
Arsenal, however, roared back and such was the head of steam that they built, they did not want the first half to end. Happily for them they entered the break on level terms, courtesy of a typically silky finish from Özil. He injected the urgency on halfway, swapped passes with Bellerín and sent a low, left-footed shot on the bounce in off the far post.
Emery's team packed a lot into the last 10 minutes of the half. Kasper Schmeichel kept out a Granit Xhaka free-kick and an Alex Iwobi shot while Iwobi almost pulled down a high ball as he ran clear and Holding missed a flicked header from Xhaka's corner.
Claude Puel’s 3-4-1-2 formation asked plenty of questions of Arsenal, particularly in the opening half hour. He set up with Maddison in a central attacking midfield role, in front of Nampalys Mendy and Ndidi, and with Iheanacho and Vardy working as wide forwards.
At times, when the attacking pair tucked in to defend, Maddison was the most advanced Leicester player. He bristled with quality. Leicester had width and shape.
But a theme of Emery's tenure has been the ability to respond to the flow of a match, to make the necessary adjustments. How he did so here, and it is doubtful whether he has ever enjoyed such an immediate dividend from a double substitution. He sent on Aubameyang and Matteo Guendouzi for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Stephan Lichtsteiner in the 61st minute, with Xhaka dropping to left-back to accommodate Guendouzi in midfield.
Five minutes later and Aubameyang had scored twice, although both goals owed everything to Özil. Moments earlier Ndidi had rattled the crossbar with a header from Maddison’s corner. This was Arsenal’s night. – Guardian service