Arsenal failed to kill off Leicester City in the first half on Tuesday night. They ended drawing the match 1-1. It is a harsh lesson that they must learn.
In his post-match press conference, Mikel Arteta attempted to deflect the blame away from his team. He spoke about the refereeing decision to send Eddie Nketiah off. He discussed the infringements of Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy. He also talked about Vardy’s controversial goal that could have been ruled out for offside by VAR.
However, for all of the different potential reasons that Arteta raised, deep down, even he knew there was more prominent reason why Arsenal failed to hold onto their 1-0 lead against Leicester City: it wasn’t big enough.
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Arsenal dominated the first half. They had seven shots, six on target, peppered Kasper Schmeichel, and controlled proceedings. Leicester were penned in for large portions of the first period, while the front three were especially dangerous, looking like they might score every time they exposed the Leicester backline. But for all their pressure, the Gunners scored just the one goal.
Arteta himself, while complaining about the referee, admitted that this was a major issue himself. In his post-match press conference, he said:
“I think for long periods of the game we deserved the three points, 100 per cent, but against this opposition when you have them there you have to kill them. We should have scored three or four goals and then the game is over and we haven’t done that, and after as well you let the team down with 10 men and obviously to win three points by doing these two things becomes really complicated.”
Arsenal failed to take advantage of several excellent opportunities. Bukayo Saka dallied on a right-footed shot after Alexandre Lacazette fed him. Lacazette himself missed two opportunities, one excellently saved by Kasper Schmeichel after a lovely swivelling touch and shot from the Frenchman, the other a poor header that lacked the necessary direction from a tight angle.
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Schmeichel made a good stop from a skewed Hector Bellerin cross that was goalbound while Lacazette thought he’d scored a second before it was called back due to a narrow offside. Kieran Tierney delivered several excellent crosses into the box while more openings were engineered in the final third that just lacked that final pass.
In the end, these opportunities led to nothing but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s lone strike. Even with 11 men on the pitch, there were signs that it would not be enough. Leicester grew into the game in the second half, pushed higher up the pitch, and started to build some offensive pressure. And once Nketiah was sent trudging down the tunnel, Arsenal were always in trouble.
It is a harsh lesson to learn, but when playing the best teams in the league, you have to be clinical when you are in the ascendency. Arsenal were excellent in the first half but they did not make their dominance count. In the end, it came back to haunt them.