Is this really the same Arsenal who went 22 games unbeaten earlier in the season? That long period of superiority almost feels like a trick of the imagination now, as Unai Emery’s calamitous end to the campaign continued with a third defeat in eight days.
Arsenal’s attempt to snatch a Champions League qualification place is surely over after three second-half goals from a rampant Leicester City, with one from Youri Tielemans and, inevitably, two from Jamie Vardy.
Arsenal were outplayed and outfought by Brendan Rodgers’ upwardly mobile team, also suffering the dismissal of defender Ainsley Maitland-Niles late in the first half for a second yellow card, and it seems farcical that they still retain a tiny sliver of hope to finish in the top four after such a poor run.
Emery was irritated for much of the afternoon, even earning a stern word from referee Michael Oliver in the second half, and was probably fortunate not to have been sent to the stands.
This run has come at the worst possible time, and Emery will surely reflect on these past three games when the post-season analysis is carried out.
“The players worked well and I am proud of them. We prepared our game plan, 11 v 11 the match was going like we prepared,” said the Arsenal manager. “For me the first yellow card for [Maitland-Niles] is not for me, it has affected our game plan a lot. One player less is difficult. The condition [for losing] is the red card. I don’t agree with it.
“We will continue, we will not look at the table, the Europa League is a big motivation for us to win it.
“At the beginning of the season we knew it was going to be very difficult [ to finish in the top four].”
Arsenal will now switch their focus to Thursday’s semi-final first leg at home to Valencia and Emery must somehow lift his players.
For Leicester, this victory will only generate further optimism over the future under Rodgers and they could still finish seventh, though their remaining games are against Manchester City and Chelsea. This convincing performance also begs the question of whether Rodgers would have been a better fit for Arsenal, after the departure of Arsene Wenger.
We will never know, but this was a hugely encouraging afternoon for Leicester and that £9 million compensation fee paid to Celtic for Rodgers appears increasingly shrewd.
Leicester have won five of their eight games under Rodgers and this result never looked in doubt, even before Maitland-Niles’ dismissal. The home team controlled possession in the first half and were pressing high, with midfielder Hamza Choudhury particularly impressive, and were left to rue a number of missed opportunities, with Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno producing a fine save to deny Wilfred Ndidi.
The pivotal moment of the first half came in the 36th minute. Maitland-Niles had been booked earlier for a foul on Ben Chilwell and his rash challenge on James Maddison, near the halfway line, gave Oliver no alternative but to dismiss him.
Emery was furious, hurling his jacket towards his seat in the technical area, but it was a needless tackle from a defender already on a yellow card.
Rodgers went for the jugular, introducing Harvey Barnes at half-time to run at Arsenal’s besieged defence.
The breakthrough seemed inevitable, and finally came just before the hour. Tielemans easily eluded Granit Xhaka to run into the penalty area and was found by Maddison, with the Belgium international heading the ball into the corner.
“Sign him up,” chanted the home fans, with Tielemans continuing to impress since signing on loan from Monaco. Vardy sealed the win in the 86th minute after Kasper Schmeichel’s kick somehow found a way through the Arsenal defence and, though the striker’s lob hit the bar, he was not going to miss the header on the rebound.
He collected another goal in added time after Ricardo Pereira put it on a gold-encrusted plate. Vardy now has eight goals in eight league games against Arsenal, the team he turned down in 2016.
Rodgers said: “We showed we are a good side. We’re not really thinking of Europe, when I came in here we wanted to finish as high as we could. This is an important period for us to bed in all the concepts and to work on how we play.
“The squad dynamic is really good and we will look to add quality in the summer and look to push on.”
FT Leicester 3-0 Arsenal
Arsenal miss chance to leapfrog Chelsea into fourth ahead of their clash with Man Utd later in the day.
94 mins – Leicester 3 – 0 Arsenal
I take it back, dignity gone – for the third time in a week Arsenal concede three as Vardy gets his second in the final minute of play.
Ricardo beats two Arsenal defenders to dink a pass in to the waiting Vardy in the centre of the box. The striker puts it away easily, uncontested.
The last kick of the game, and well-deserved for a side that dominated from start to finish.
93 mins – Leicester 2 – 0 Arsenal
Leicester go on the break from an Arsenal corner, and Barnes beats Sokratis to go one-on-one with the keeper but Leno saves the shot, and some of his side’s dignity.
GOAL!!! 86 mins – Leicester 2 – 0 Arsenal
Vardy seals the victory and what will be Arsenal’s third defeat in a row.
A long ball from Schmeichel sees Vardy race past Arsenal’s sleeping defence into the box and lob the ball over Leno. It hits the crossbar but the Leicester striker thinks quick, following the rebound and heading it into goal. A scrappy goal to sum up an energetic and aggressive Leicester team performance, and poor defending to sum up Arsenal’s.
85 mins – Leicester 1 – 0 Arsenal
Arsenal with a big chance – albeit offside. A free kick forces Maguire to stretch to clear a dangerous ball in the box.
Albrighton off – Gray on for Leicester.
81 mins – Leicester 1 – 0 Arsenal
A chance for Leicester, but the cross in to…
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