Arsenal 1 Leicester City 0
The Arsene Wenger celebration face at the end of it all was not as visceral or as liberating as the one he produced at Wembley on Sunday but the relief to snatch a win from the jaws of a dreary draw was still worth savouring. He might have the FA Cup in his sightlines but he can also cling to the possibility of a 19th consecutive Champions League qualification thanks to a freakish late goal.
It felt like one of those ominous days that Arsenal are familiar with in these parts against a dogged opponent, where the sideways passes can be soporific and the chances kept at bay.
In the 86th minute, the ball pinged around an increasingly anxious Arsenal attack only for a deflected cross to end up with Nacho Monreal, who swung a leg at it. The ball diverted off Robert Huth's chest and bobbled past Kasper Schmeichel. With that stroke of fortune a Wembley hangover turned into an unexpected Emirates party.
Somehow Arsenal have won three games on the trot and have moved to within four points of Manchester City, and six of Liverpool with two games in hand on the latter. After a dismal few weeks all is not quite dead.
With this rendezvous positioned between two emotionally charged occasions – the FA Cup semi-final and Sunday's north London derby at White Hart Lane – Wenger rotated, making changes in every department of the team. Sticking to his shiny new formula based on a defensive trio, he threw in some fresh legs and the attack was rejigged to allow Alexis Sanchez a central role.
A slow-burner of a first half encouraged the visiting supporters to make their own entertainment, yelling out the ditty du jour for opposition fans in sarcastically imploring Wenger to stay. The Arsenal fans in the Clock End responded by pointing out that their manager has “won more than you”.
It has been a while since he was able to hear a section of the Emirates crowd defending him so it was in a small way symbolic of the slight mood change that comes with a Wembley final. There was still a generous sprinkling of empty seats, though, to concern the powers that be.
Although Wenger had urged his players to show the same energy levels they did to eke past Manchester City at Wembley, that was easier said than done. Leicester were well manned defensively and from that platform were eager to seize chances that appeared. The first came quickly. When Sanchez casually flicked at the ball in a defensive area Leicester snapped on to it and worked a clear sight of goal, the ball zipping from Marc Albrighton to Jamie Vardy, whose curling shot grazed the outside of the net.
Despite having to soak up a lot of Arsenal possession, Leicester were not without inviting first-half opportunities. From a corner Riyad Mahrez swiped a fierce volley that Petr Cech did well to parry, and the Algerian later dribbled goalwards before steering a shot against the side-netting.
Arsenal huffed and puffed. Schmeichel had to be alert to deal with Francis Coquelin's long-range tester, and to tip away Theo Walcott's crisp shot. Unsurprisingly much of the most dangerous movement revolved around the buzzing Sanchez. He claimed for a penalty when he was shoved over by Yohan Benalouane, but Leicester were helped that one of the official's spotted that the Chilean had strayed offside. Just before half-time he burst across the face of goal and rattled the crossbar with a stinging shot.
The traffic became noticably more one-sided. Leicester were comfortably frustrating Arsenal, who were themselves making a decent attempt at passing without great penetration. A midfield quartet of so many defensively minded players – with Coquelin and Granit Xhaka flanked by Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin – was on the conservative side as far as creativity is concerned.
It was Bellerin who provided the first spark after the break with a fine driving run. Sanchez was waiting, ready to pounce, but his first touch was a fraction heavy and allowed Huth to clear.
For all the short passing, Arsenal did try to include some variation and Xhaka went close with a powerful shot from outside the box that ricocheted away. Then Laurent Koscielny had a chance with a header that did not trouble Schmeichel.
Wenger shuffled his pack. On came Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, in search of more attacking conviction. Little did he imagine the game changers would be Monreal again with a little help from Huth.
The temperature boiled over in the dying stages as Leicester sought a route back and passions ran high on both sides. Christian Fuchs took a dislike to Sanchez's attempt to block a throw-in and hurled the ball at the Arsenal man's shoulder from close range. The contretemps blew over and the points belonged to Arsenal.