1-0 to the Arsenal as late Leicester own goal makes it a good week
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Arsenal continued their good week with a second victory in four days with a late 1-0 win over Leicester City after a late Robert Huth own goal.
The victory kept alive the Gunners hopes of finishing in the top four after a scrappy game saw plenty of perspiration but little inspiration.
In a match between the two teams who finished first and second in last season’s Premier League Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was on the bench tonight despite leaving Wembley after Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final on crutches.
The midfielder took a kick to the foot but Arsene Wenger said it was just a precautionary measure.
Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin started as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud dropped to the bench and Rob Holding was not picked.
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Leicester’s Wes Morgan was out with a hamstring injury while Nampalys Mendy’s season is over following an ankle operation.
Robert Huth returned after a Champions League ban, but Islam Slimani remains sidelined with a groin injury.
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Arsenal have been unbeaten in 20 league games against Leicester with 14 wins and six draws, and have won three of the last four meetings – including wins home and away over last season’s deserved champions.
Wenger’s men had won nine of the 10 times they have hosted Leicester in the Premier League. The only blip was the first of those meetings, a 1-1 draw in north London in 1995.
The chill in North London on a nippy night didn’t extend to the warm reception the fans gave the players as they started the game, even if there were again a worryingly large number of empty seats at kick off.
Gone is the divided atmosphere between fans – for now - after the club reached its record 20th FA Cup Final.
Both teams started with energy and endeavour but the opening was largely shapeless until Kasper Schmeichel pushed away Coquelin’s 25 yard strike on 17 minutes.
Petr Cech then did well to tip Riyad Mahrez’s close-range volley over the bar on 23 minutes.
Four minutes later Theo Walcott flicked the ball into space in the box and stabbed a low shot at Schmeichel’s near post. The son of the former Manchester United was equal to the task and deflected for a corner which came to nothing.
Both sides kept probing but the final ball was never good enough - from both sides - to penetrate either defence.
30 seconds before half time Alexis Sanchez worked the ball into space on the edge of the area before unleashing a powerful shot that thudded against the top of the bar and over.
It would have been a goal worth savouring but as referee Mike Jones blew for the interval 0-0 remained the scoreline.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first, with lots of aspiration, application and perspiration – but still no goals.
On 55 minutes Sanchez caused panic in the Foxes box as he appeared to flick the ball narrowly past the post but it was the giant centre half who had the last touch. It was a close call for the visitors but Arsenal still they couldn’t break the deadlock as the resulting corner came to nothing.
Moments later Schmeichel palmed the ball past the post from a Xhaka shot from the edge of the area. He appeared to five a fraction early but adjusted his body and right arm to turn the ball around the post. On one hand you could say it was needlessly dramatic but on the other his agility and quick-thinking in readjusting were to be praised.
Wenger replaced Gibbs on 67 minutes with Danny Welbeck and Shinnji Okazaki came on for Leonardo Ulloa but still a goal – for either side – failed to materialise.
Tempers became flared after Leicester defender Yohan Benalouance treated Giroud’s back like a climbing wall and rightly received a yellow card for his actions.
The deadlock was finally broken with five minutes remaining after a spell of Arsenal pressure saw Monreal fire the ball into the box. With Giroud jostling with Huth the ball came off the former Chelsea man and into the net to make it 1-0 to Arsenal.
Sanchez still found time to be booked for his overreaction following Christain Fuchs hurling the ball into him from point blank range after the Chileaen blocked a throw moments before referee Jones blew for the final whistle.
In truth it was a scrappy goal to win a scrappy and at times ill-tempered game.
But with two wins in two matches giving Arsenal momentum heading into Sunday’s crucial North London Derby not too many in red and white will concern themselves with that fact.
Cech, Gibbs (Welbeck, 67) Gabriel, Koscielny, Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott (Giroud, 74), Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka (booked), Coquelin (Ramsey. 74)
Schmeichel, Drinkwater, Huth, Vardy, Albrighton, Simpson, Ulloa (Okazaki, 69), Ndidi, Mahrez, Fuchs, Benalouane (booked)