Jamie Vardy completes Leicester’s perfect smash and grab against Arsenal

Vithushan Ehantharajah
·4-min read

Jamie Vardy usually hangs over these matches with a sense of dread for Arsenal, like the school bully leaning against his usual wall, waiting for his usual haul of change. And even though the man with 10 goals in 11 appearances against the Gunners started on the bench, having recovered from a calf injury that has kept him out of action since 4 October, there was an inevitability to his presence on this crisp Sunday evening.

On 80 minutes he made that 11 in 12, earning Leicester their first win away at Arsenal since September 1973. His introduction on the hour immediately lifted Leicester City from calculated jogs to the kind of whippet sprints that underpins his and their best work and, here, an important breakthrough after two successive defeats. A scamper by Cengiz Under to latch onto a lofted through-ball by Youri Tielemans led to a cross from Turkish international onto the stooping head of Vardy, who powered home from eight yards.

If this were another team, you would be tempted to say the home side did not see this coming. But even the most optimistic of supporter of Mikel Arteta’s defensively robust Arsenal will have been wary of how much they have lacked up front. Aside from Hector Bellerin’s volley on 68 minutes, Kasper Schmeichel did not have a diving-save to make.

Not that Leicester were especially purposeful themselves. Vardy’s winner was their first shot in Arsenal’s box, which tells you all you need to know about their set-up. Brendan Rodgers gave James Maddison his first start of the league season, and the occasion was almost marked with a goal inside two minutes. His 40-yard lob of Bernd Leno, who had presented the chance after rushing off his line and clearing inadequately, rippled the outside of the side-netting.

That would be Leicester's sole first-half effort to Arsenal’s 11. The hosts did have the ball in the net when Alexandre Lacazette headed a corner in at the near post, but Granit Xhaka’s position in front of the goalkeeper (and offside) saw that chalked off with limited fuss.

Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the winnerGetty
Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the winnerGetty

Arteta was visibly the most frustrated of the two managers. Of all the possession, flight balls beyond the opposition backline and moments in the box, there was nothing of worth for large periods of time. And though Leicester’s tactic of hanging back and absorbing pressure was not particularly inspired, nor were the methods utilised by those in red to breach them.

As it happens, the primary source of Arsenal’s most effective passes was not Thomas Partey, but David Luiz. The Brazilian was stepping out of defence, finding his full-backs in advance positions with the kind of range and craft that offsets the unnecessary chaos.

But when he went off at the start of the second half, tweaking a hamstring as he tried to cover a two-on-one counter attack towards his own goal, he was replayed by Shkodran Mustafi. And so, the visitors had one threat less to worry about.

The introduction of Vardy woke the game up, and not just because of the can of Red Bull he chugged before making his entrance. He immediately had an effect, combining with Harvey Barnes who now had a chirpy, sharp-faced reason to shift forward and quickly.

After grabbing his goal, Leicester started to swagger. And though Vardy could have settled the tie early with a chance in added time - kept out by the face of Leno - the three points were secured with some smart ball management and even smarter contact to ensure there was no late sting in this one.

That, perhaps, will be the most chastening thing about this defeat for Arsenal, a third already after six matches this season. They may be harder to break down, but they are evidently not harder to beat.

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