Arsenal's late show denies Leicester, energises Premier League title race
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Arsenal's 2-1 win against Leicester in the Premier League.
1. Arsenal's late show
A season of so many stories provided yet another remarkable tale and a rousing ending as Danny Welbeck came off the bench, after almost a year out with injury, to score a stoppage-time winner for Arsenal's comeback 2-1 win over 10-man Leicester City.
It has cut the gap between the two teams to just two points and the nature of the game's climax could have the double effect of psychologically super-charging Arsenal's run-in and sapping that of leaders Leicester.
This was a supremely full-blooded game, with Arsene Wenger's side responding brilliantly to Jamie Vardy's controversially-won first-half penalty. The striker converted from the spot to put Leicester ahead, after which the away side defended so defiantly -- until the very end.
Perhaps the turning point of the game came early in the second half, when referee Martin Atkinson showed a second yellow card to Leicester right-back Danny Simpson. The foul for the latter caution was soft, but Arsenal wrestled the momentum from then on.
Theo Walcott came off the bench to propel that and hit a brilliant equaliser and Arsenal then completely dominated Leicester, although they were aided by Claudio Ranieri's decision to take off Riyad Mahrez.
His replacement Marcin Wasilewski was part of the rearguard action that looked to have won a point, until he recklessly fouled Nacho Monreal in the fourth of four stoppage-time minutes.
After an imprecise day by his own standards, Mesut Ozil then played the subsequent free-kick perfectly and Welbeck offered the perfect finish with a deft header.
If defiant last-minute winners are the defining characteristics of title winners, what was this? Perhaps that remains to be seen but what Welbeck's goal did do was end a poor Arsenal run. Facing a third straight home league game without a win and a run overall of just one victory in six, Arsenal have now won two in a row.
By contrast, Leicester followed up their win at Manchester City with another notable away victory and instead ran out of energy for the first time, but they remain top of the Premier League with 12 games to go.
The question is: What happens next? In a season such as this, it's hard to tell. What is certain, though, is that Arsenal's late show has super-charged the title race.
2. Hosts overwhelm the team that could not be overwhelmed
The hosts' rousing response to going behind was hugely creditable and eventually ensured that Leicester were undone by one of their greatest strengths. The way in which Ranieri's sides press is so impressive, but they can take it to extremes, as was seen in Wasilewski's late foul on Monreal.
Other examples were seen when the otherwise superb N'Golo Kante was booked for a cynical foul on Mesut Ozil, while Danny Simpson's eventual red card was an extension of the overzealous approach. There might have been a sense of Martin Atkinson trying to compensate for the penalty decision with that second yellow card, but a player can't have too many complaints if he's so persistently fouling.
In that regard, Danny Drinkwater was possibly fortunate to stay on the pitch, too, although he was as omnipresent as Kante in winning so much ball.
The other side of that argument is that the hyperactive nature of Arsenal's play required Leicester to get more desperate and cynical. It got to the point where the nature of the home side's onslaught was scarcely believable, with Kasper Schmeichel making a string of superb saves and some of Arsenal's misses just beyond comprehension.
Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud were particularly guilty of missing big chances, although the French striker did show supreme presence of mind to head down for Walcott to deftly equalise.
It is perhaps pointed that Arsenal required goals from two subs to win the game. There were times where it seemed like some of their starting XI were overzealous and too eager, to the point of snatching at everything.
It needed someone with a different perspective, which is precisely what Walcott, and then Welbeck, provided.
3. Questionable decisions on both sides
Many decisions in this game will be questioned -- not least a series from referee Atkinson -- but perhaps the most debatable call came from Ranieri, who opted to remove Mahrez when his side went down to 10 men.
The substitution had the double effect of removing the visitors' threat on the break and ability to hold the ball, as well as bringing on the player who would give away the crucial stoppage-time foul: Wasilewski.
Until then, Leicester had done everything right, but they were helped by Arsene Wenger's tactics. The away side went ahead with an example of what everyone had been talking about before the game: a blistering counter-attack.
Indeed, Wenger even mentioned the quality of Leicester's transitions in his pre-match press conference, but couldn't come up with a response of sufficient quality. He basically set up the perfect game for Ranieri's side to exploit.
Vardy has now been awarded six penalties this season and the latest came when Monreal fell into the trap of leaving out a leg, which the striker duly went over. The way Vardy "manufactures" a foul should be predictable, but Arsenal still succumbed.
Sure, the Gunners might have had legitimate grievance with the way Wes Morgan went over Ozil at the edge of the Leicester box in the buildup to the foul, but from there the league leaders ripped through to the point that Monreal was drawn into conceding the penalty.
But early in the second half, Simpson was drawn into another foul, which led to Ranieri taking away Leicester's advantage.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.