4 observations from Leicester 2-5 Arsenal
It was a ding-dong battle to begin with but eventually Gunners' class told, with the London outfit eventually outshooting their opponents from the Midlands.
Here are our notes from a pulsating encounter, with positives and negatives for both sides to take stock of...
1. Vardy is justifying his England selection
When Jamie Vardy saw Jose Mourinho last season after Chelsea had beaten Leicester City 3-1, the Portuguese manager took the opportunity to pay the striker a compliment. “He came up to me outside the dressing room and basically said "Do you ever stop running?"” admitted Vardy this week.
The forward’s energy was evident here straight away, as he hit the post inside 10 minutes. It was a warning sign that Arsenal did not heed, as Vardy opened the scoring just two minutes later.
Perhaps the turning point in the game came when Vardy’s header hit the crossbar and Arsenal duly caught Leicester with a counter-attack of their own, as Theo Walcott slotted in the equaliser. Vardy didn’t give up though and even when they were 4-1 down, as he curled in a consolation goal.
He has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League matches, with eight goals and three assists. Roy Hodgson surprised many with his inclusion of the 28-year-old in the England squad back in May, but with six goals this season it’s becoming increasingly clear why.
2. Alexi Sanchez takes time to get up to speed
Prior to the match, Arsenal had the lowest shot conversion rate in the Premier League with just 6.1%. One of the main reasons for this was Alexis Sanchez, who had attempted more shots on goal than any other player with 31, but hadn’t opened his account for the season.
Having won the Copa America in the summer with the host nation Chile, he arrived back a little later than everyone else and for the second campaign running he didn’t get much of a rest following the World Cup in 2014. Last term it took him until his fifth appearance to get on the scoresheet, although it was only his second start.
In his final campaign in La Liga, he did manage to score against Levante - however, it was the first of Barcelona’s seven goals and he failed to find the net in his next five appearances.
There was an element of fortune about the way the ball flicked up into his path for his first goal, after a deflection off Ritchie De Laet from Hector Bellerin’s cross, but he still took the chance and gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead.
Mesut Ozil’s delightful little flick enabled Sanchez to loop a header over Kasper Schmeichel and give him his second, whilst he saved his best for last to complete his hat-trick. “He’s back to his level, he won a big competition with Chile, the Copa America. I think mentally to adjust to a competitive level when you get back takes time,” confessed Arsene Wenger after the match. Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri was equally complimentary: “He is an amazing player, he can do everything, and the ball and he were born together.”
Sanchez’s first for the club came in a Champions League win over Besiktas; he then went on a run of 17 goals in 26 games. On this form, few would bet against him performing a similar feat.
3. Santi Cazorla vital to Arsenal's creativity in a deeper role
There has been a lot made of Santi Cazorla playing in the centre of midfield, but once again he dominated the ball and was also excellent defensively. It was his slide rule pass that allowed Walcott to race free for Arsenal’s opener, which was his 32nd assist for the team since he made his debut in August 2012.
No one in England’s top division has created more chances (28) or completed more passes (542) than the Spaniard this season. Along with Ozil he created five chances in this match and was unusually combative throughout.
Cazorla made six tackles and recovered the ball 15 times, with most of his work coming on the left-hand side, as he assisted Nacho Monreal with the threat posed by Riyad Mahrez. It could be that against the top teams Arsenal require a greater resilience centrally, although that maybe says more about the construction of the rest of the side rather than Cazorla’s capability.
4. Mahrez will continue to attract the attention of Europe's top teams
It wasn’t his best game for the club, but the winger still showed flashes of brilliance. The Algerian faced his biggest test to date against Monreal and did cause Wenger’s team some concern.
He didn’t add to his five goals and three assists for the campaign, however, he did display the confidence that has attracted the attention of the away side and Barcelona. Mahrez predominantly plays out on the right-wing, but he looks at his most dangerous when he drifts centrally.
The attacker’s crossing can be a little wayward on occasion and at times he frustrates when holding onto the ball for a little too long. “Mahrez is important but all the team is very important. In this moment he is in great condition and he is very good for the team,” said Ranieri last month.
Mahrez also links well with his team-mates, who help him play to his strengths. He completed nine out of 12 attempted take-ons, although he failed to make a tackle, despite five attempts.
“I am an Italian manager and I am interested also in how he defends, and he is getting better,” confessed Ranieri.