By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
A late own goal from Robert Huth secured us a precious three points as we kept our hopes of a top-four place alive with a crucial victory at Emirates Stadium.
For so much of this game it seemed as if we would be frustrated against an obdurate Leicester City side that kept chances to a minimum.
We got off sluggish start that nearly saw us fall behind when Jamie Vardy shot into the sidenetting, before Petr Cech was called into action to make a fine save to deny Riyad Mahrez from close range.
Arsene Wenger’s men struggled to find the same intensity and focus they had shown against Manchester City three days earlier, although Theo Walcott forced a smart save out of Kasper Schmiechel.
Alexis went closest with a fierce drive that rattled off the crossbar on the stroke of half-time, but despite our best efforts we found it tough to break down the Foxes after the restart too.
Alexis was dispossessed when well-placed in the area, Granit Xhaka saw a deflected effort palmed wide and frustrations continued to grow.
But four minutes from the end we had our reward when Nacho Monreal’s drive from the edge of the area hit Huth and flew into the bottom corner.
It was enough to settle this clash and while it may not have been your typical Arsenal goal, sometimes you just need to dig out a result – and that is exactly what we did.
Next, the minor matter of the north London derby at White Hart Lane. Bring it on.
NO PLACE FOR HOLDING
The headline team news was that Wenger once again adopted three at the back – although there was no place for Rob Holding.
The England Under-21 international had impressed with a hugely-composed display at Wembley Stadium three days earlier, but his place in the new-look backline was taken by Monreal.
Kieran Gibbs came in at left wing-back, with Hector Bellerin on the opposite flank, while Francis Coquelin replaced Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
Theo Walcott, with three goals in his last four games, replaced Olivier Giroud in a fluid front three, while Wenger showed his attacking intentions by not naming any defenders on the bench.
All eyes from a Leicester perspective were on Vardy, after his move to the Emirates last summer failed to materialise, while the England international had also scored the Foxes’ last three Premier League goals against Arsenal.
A SLOW START
Vardy was straight at the Gunners, coming close to opening the scoring with seven minutes on the clock when he curled a shot into the sidenetting from close range after pouncing on an Alexis error on the edge of the area.
Slowly Wenger’s side began to grow into the game, with Coquelin taking aim from 20 yards as he looked to open his account for the club with a firm drive that stung the hands of Kasper Schmeichel.
It was a decent strike, but soon after Monreal went close from the resulting corner with a hooked effort that was cleared off the line, the champions came back at them.
From Leicester’s next attack, Cech had to make a superb reaction save to deny Mahrez from close range after the Algerian had pounced on a loose ball in the area to fire a fierce shot at goal.
It was some stop from the Arsenal goalkeeper, and one that drew appreciative applause from both the fans and his relieved team-mates.
UPPING THE ANTE
Leicester were making life difficult for the hosts, defending resolutely and in numbers as they frustrated Wenger’s men.
But with 26 minutes on the clock they finally fashioned their next sight of goal when, after patient build-up play, Walcott bundled his way into space in the area and poked the ball towards the near post – only for Schmeichel to make a smart save to push it around the post.
Gabriel glanced a header across the face of goal soon after as we started to up the ante but, with chances at a premium, it was clear that patience would be required to break down Craig Shakespeare’s side.
Alexis hit the bar with a fierce drive on the stroke of half-time, but there was nothing to separate the sides at the interval.
AFTER THE RESTART
The game had been, in truth, pretty flat in the first half but Arsenal were brighter after the restart, with Alexis soon getting sight of goal only to be dispossessed in the area after being found by Bellerin.
Granit Xhaka was next to test Schmeichel, letting fly from 20 yards with a shot that deflected off Danny Drinkwater but it was well saved.
This was more like it from the Gunners, but they still remained short of their best against a Leicester side seemingly content to sit back and soak up the building waves of pressure.
A CHANGE OF SYSTEM
As time ticked on, Wenger soon introduced Danny Welbeck – who so memorably scored the winner in the corresponding fixture last season – for Kieran Gibbs.
It saw us return to a back four, while the introductions of Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey off the bench saw Wenger make his final throw of the dice in a bid to secure the result we needed.
We remained on the front foot, but frustrations continued to grow as we failed to break down a resolute Foxes backline.
Indeed, it could have got worse for us when Shinji Okazaki raced in on goal but Gabriel slid in to make a timely intervention to block the Japanese striker’s goalbound effort.
A STROKE OF LUCK
Just when it looked like we would have to settle for a share of the points, our attacking ambition was rewarded with four minutes remaining.
In truth there was more than a touch of luck about it, as Alexis cross was cleared to the edge of the area where it found Monreal.
The Spain international, fresh from his goal at Wembley in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final, took aim with a speculative effort, only to see it crash into Huth’s chest and fly into the bottom corner.
It sparked wild celebrations as we had the goal – and the result – that keeps our top-four ambitions alive ahead of what is bound to be a tight and tense run-in to the season.
Referee: Mike Jones
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