Arsenal lose again away from home as Leicester romp to easy 3-1 win
LEICESTER, England -- Three points from Arsenal's latest away loss, this time dropping 3-1 at Leicester.
1. Arsenal's miserable away run continues
Another away match in 2018 and another away defeat for Arsenal. Their seventh in a row looked inevitable after a crazy two early minutes in which Kelechi Iheanacho scored for Leicester and then, almost immediately, brought about the dismissal of centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos. Arsenal's 10 men hit back through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but were undone 16 minutes from time by a Jamie Vardy penalty and, at the end, a late Riyad Mahrez strike.
If the Gunners cannot put a stop to their dismal form on the road at Huddersfield on Sunday, Arsène Wenger's reign will end with a whimper.
Arsenal got off to a nightmare start. They had controlled the opening 12 minutes but Leicester's first period of danger produced a double blow that proved terminal. The away side appeared to have survived when Petr Cech turned Vardy's angled drive around his near post, but the resulting corner was never properly cleared and Iheanacho, perfectly placed to meet Fousseni Diabate's astute header, rifled home crisply.
Within 92 seconds, Arsenal's quandary intensified when young centre-back Mavropanos hauled Iheanacho over after the forward had charged down his clearance. Iheanacho was some 45 yards from goal but his pace looked likely to take him clear; it was the kind of decision some referees compromise upon but Graham Scott brandished the red card unflinchingly.
That sequence put Leicester firmly on the front foot, although Arsenal somehow survived further punishment before the interval and came mighty close to a 34th-minute equaliser when Eldin Jakupovic, making his Premier League debut for the Foxes, made a brilliant one-handed save to deny Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Arsenal came even closer with the first action of the second half, Sead Kolasinac rattling the near post with a fierce strike, before quickly thanking substitute Shkodran Mustafi for hacking Diabate's half-saved shot off the line. But in the 52nd minute their clear improvement brought an equaliser, with Aubameyang blasting home at the second attempt after fine work down the right by Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
The goal appeared to take the sting out of Leicester, who had worked Cech enough times that they should have been out of sight before the break. Yet 16 minutes from time, the hosts found a winner out of the blue after Mkhitaryan clipped the substitute Demarai Gray in the box. Arsenal protested but the contact, with man and not ball, seemed clear enough. Vardy converted and then, with a minute to go, Mahrez ran clear down the right before finishing coolly.
Arsenal's miserable run continues.
2. Aubameyang provides Arsenal with some comfort
Wenger's successor will be under no illusion about the size of his task but at least he will be able to call upon Aubameyang. The January signing has now scored nine goals in his 12 Premier League games -- also recording four assists -- and while there are numerous problem areas elsewhere in the team, Arsenal have the most important ingredient necessary for building a strike force: a centre-forward who is at his peak and operating at the top of his game.
Aubameyang will score better goals -- his effort on Wednesday came from a few yards out after Jakupovic saved his first attempt -- but it was a lethal way to treat his only clear sight of the match and, if the new manager can create the kind of fluid, coherent front line that largely eluded Wenger this term, the possibilities are mouthwatering.
Alexandre Lacazette, in fine form himself, was given the night off here and they make a pair that, with a whole season together, can surely fire Arsenal to a higher finish than sixth place next year.
There were eye-catching displays elsewhere too, even if Mavropanos' dismissal, which came from the kind of error any 20-year-old centre-back can make, set them wobbling. Maitland-Niles' versatility has sometimes threatened to count against him but here, deputising for Hector Bellerin at right-back, he was largely excellent. The wriggling run that fended off Diabate to create Aubameyang's goal was a triumph of strength, speed and perseverance; it was far from his only positive contribution and any watching job applicants will have taken note.
Alex Iwobi, who was denied by Jakupovic in the sixth minute as Arsenal began strongly, looked purposeful early on in the No. 10 position, although chances to impress were scarcer when he moved out to the left after the red card. For Iwobi, a player whose long-term place in the team looks far from guaranteed, it felt rather like a useful audition cut short.
Eventually Arsenal's major frustration centred upon the winning penalty, a decision that caused Wenger to laugh. But mistakes keep on costing them and the pattern has gone on too long to afford them much sympathy. Aubameyang must hope that in 2018-19, he plays for a team that does not undo his predatory work.
3. Leicester rediscover the good times... for now
What an unexpectedly pleasant night this was for Leicester, who won a home league game for the first time since Jan. 20 and gave their fans some much-needed entertainment in the process. The King Power Stadium had simmered with discontent during the 2-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday and it said plenty for what has passed here in recent months that the refrain after Iheanacho's strike was, to give the family-friendly version, "How bad must you be? We've just scored a goal."
Mavropanos' red card undoubtedly made it easier for them to cut loose after that, but all the same, Leicester's appetite to go for the jugular after that was a welcome change from a generally dour campaign that had rendered their title win of two years ago a distant memory.
It was certainly a timely result for their embattled manager, Claude Puel, whose tenure has come under scrutiny in recent weeks that could yet see his position reviewed over the summer. "It's not possible in six months to have all the possibility to perform like a great team," Puel had said before the game, defending his record since arriving in October. He had a point and can refer to some fine performances from his attacking players when underlining the potential in Leicester's squad.
Iheanacho, whose goal was only his second in the Premier League this season, looked like the player he threatened to be at Manchester City while Diabate, the young Mali international winger, was a particularly persistent threat in the first half and is a promising talent to work with.
Leicester looked uncertain for 20 minutes after Aubameyang's equaliser -- little surprise given their recent form -- but eventually rediscovered the tempo of the first half and put the game to bed. By the end, their fans could cheer their team to the rafters while standing as one to hail the departing Wenger. It was a night when, temporarily or not, Leicester rediscovered their positive spirit.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.