Alexis Sanchez opened his Premier League account for the season as he scored a hat-trick for Arsenal as they ended Leicester City’s unbeaten start to the season, with a 5-2 victory at the King Power Stadium yesterday.
In an enthralling encounter, where both sides played attacking, expansive football throughout, Jamie Vardy opened the scoring with a fine solo effort before Theo Walcott tucked in a neat leveller for the visitors. Sanchez then gave Arsenal the lead before half time before two further goals stretched their advantage beyond Leicester, who got a goal back late on through Vardy. But Olivier Giroud completed the scoring with virtually the final kick of the game, bringing a pulsating game to its conclusion.
Both sides started strongly as Ritchie De Laet cleared Santi Cazorla’s low drive off the line in the game’s first real chance after seven minutes before Jeffrey Schlupp was denied by a routine diving save by Petr Cech three minutes later. Arsenal failed to clear their lines, though, and after Danny Drinkwater’s fabulous sliding tackle, the ball fell to Vardy who worked the ball onto his left foot and saw his fumbled strike from 18 yards bounce back off the base of the post, an early let off for the Gunners.
Three minutes later, Jamie Vardy opened the scoring for the hosts. After N’Golo Kante challenged Aaron Ramsey in the Leicester penalty area, Drinkwater picked the ball up and played a superb long pass into the path of the England striker, who headed the ball on magnificently, running on to it and curling past Cech for his fifth goal of the season.
Despite Kasper Schmeichel denying Walcott an equaliser after 16 minutes, Arsenal were level two minutes later in a period of play that transformed the game. Leicester thought they had doubled their lead when Marc Albrighton’s dinked cross was met by the head of the unmarked Vardy whose header struck the crossbar before Riyad Mahrez lost control of the follow-up. After a composed dummy in the box, Cazorla passed to Mesut Ozil who showed great strength to hold off Drinkwater before playing the ball out wide to Sanchez, who in turn found Cazorla. The Spaniard then picked out Walcott with a fantastic through ball and the pacey England man raced beyond Wes Morgan and Robert Huth before slotting a left-footed finish past the onrushing Schmeichel off the post.
Arsenal’s midweek hero Mathieu Flamini suffered a hamstring injury after 20 minutes and was replaced by club captain Mikel Arteta, and it was Arteta’s side that took the lead after 33 minutes. With Leicester on the attack, Arteta appeared to trip Shinji Okazaki before Jamie Vardy was also tumbled to the floor by Laurent Koscielny. Leicester players and fans alike appealed for a free-kick but referee Craig Pawson allowed play to continue and Arsenal broke; Ozil slipped in the fantastic Hector Bellerin down the Arsenal right and his driven cross was missed by everyone, leaving Sanchez unmarked at the back post to turn into an open net for his first goal of the season.
Okazaki was then denied a penalty by Pawson after Per Mertesacker appeared to block the Japanese striker in the area, but the referee, whose controversially sent off Paul Konchesky against Aston Villa in the last Leicester game he officiated, was unconvinced and once again allowed play to continue.
As an energetic half was drawing to a close, De Laet had to recover well from some poor positioning to make a fine tackle on Walcott as he entered the penalty area before Albrighton’s central free-kick was lofted into the box, but evaded everyone as Arsenal went in at half-time leading 2-1.
Claudio Ranieri changed things up at half-time, replacing the luckless Okazaki with Welshman Andy King, shifting to a 4-3-3 formation from the original 4-4-2. But it was Arsenal that came out fired up for the second half and caused Leicester’s defence plenty of problems as Sanchez had multiple attempts blocked or deflected.
But the Foxes’ resistance faltered after 57 minutes when a swift move down the right led to Bellerin playing the ball infield to Sanchez, who passed to Ozil on the left. Ozil steadied himself before producing a magnificent, deft chip over the Leicester defence which Sanchez nodded home as he beat the flying Schmeichel to the ball. It was a superb assist from Ozil and a second goal for Sanchez, who was played onside by Schlupp.
With Arsenal well on top and carving out countless opportunities, Ranieri had to shift something and brought on Leonardo Ulloa, surprisingly replacing Albrighton whose crossing ability would surely have been ideal considering the Argentine’s aerial threat. Despite a couple of half chances for Leicester, including a rather speculative 30-yard drive from Kante, it was Arsenal who continued to dominate as they ploughed players forward in attack; Theo Walcott was again threatening as he beat both Morgan and Huth down the left channel before a weak finish straight at Schmeichel.
After yellow cards for Arteta and Drinkwater as well as a flurry of substitutes which saw Ramsey and Walcott replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud for the Gunners and record signing Andrej Kramaric come on for Drinkwater for the Foxes, Arsenal extended their lead on 81 minutes. Sanchez received the ball from a throw in down the Arsenal left and flicked it beyond a tired challenge from Kante before finding himself in acres of space 25 yards from goal, where he unleashed a fabulous drive with great power which nestled into the bottom corner. An unstoppable strike.
Leicester reduced the deficit to two goals when Vardy picked up his second of the game. After being played in down the left channel by King, Vardy’s cross found Mahrez whose shot was blocked bravely. The ball was then reworked back out to Mahrez on the right whose cross found Kramaric in the six-yard-box but his stretching shot was somehow clawed off the line by Cech. Ulloa, though, picked up the rebound and lay the ball off to Vardy whose composed finish curled into the far corner, a finish not dissimilar to his opener.
But in the third minute of injury time, having failed to connect with a Cazorla cross minutes previously, Giroud grabbed a goal for himself. Nacho Monreal breezed past a lethargic De Laet and his low cross was cut back well for the Frenchman to steer a powerful left-footed finish into the corner for his side’s fifth goal of a magnificent game, a final cheer for the 3,350 travelling fans.
The win means that Arsenal leapfrog Leicester into fourth as the Foxes slip to sixth but will drop a place should Crystal Palace beat Watford in Sunday’s match. After an enthralling contest, the Gunners deserved the three points as they played some breath-taking football and were clinical as they simple outclassed their opponents and laid down their first real marker of the season, whilst inflicting the worst defeat suffered by the hosts since confirming their promotion to the Premier League in April 2014.
In his post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger said, “Our technical quality and pace caused problems. We were in control in the second half. [On Sanchez] He is back to his level, he looked dangerous. I think he is world-class, whatever the definition.” When asked about Mesut Ozil’s performance, he said, “he is very upset – he wanted a goal,” before going on to say that the title race is “open.”
His counterpart, Ranieri, said, “I think the first half was good match. I was very worried [about the Arsenal counter] – they have pace and quality. It is impossible to press one touch passing, the quality of Arsenal players is high, high, high! [On Sanchez] Meraviglia! He’s fantastic – he can do everything. The ball and him are born together.” The Italian remained positive about his own team and is determined to fight back strongly next week against Norwich. “I am very pleased with my players, they never give up. We are sad, we wanted to stay undefeated. The reaction is very important. We tried. Our spirit must be very high.”
Leicester City – Schmeichel: 6 – beaten by some fine strikes but not his best game; De Laet: 6 – caught out a few times, struggled against Sanchez, Morgan: 5 – uncommanding and difficult to deal with pace of Walcott, Huth: 5 – like Morgan, struggled with Walcott, Schlupp: 7 – got forward well but beaten by Bellerin too often; Mahrez: 6 – not his best game by some distance, made no real impact, Drinkwater: 7 – a hardworking display, some great tackling and passing, Kante: 8 – worked very hard, looks a top player, Albrighton: 7 – dangerous in first half with crossing but went missing in second; Okazaki: 6 – little impact, could have had penalty but referee refused, Vardy: 8 – two superb finishes from the England striker. Subs – King: 7 – some fine passing but no great impact, Ulloa: 5 – didn’t do a whole deal, should have scored at 1-4, Kramaric: 5 – again not heavily involved, somehow denied in build-up to Vardy’s second.
Arsenal – Cech: 8 – some top-drawer saves, no chance with either goal; Bellerin: 9 – got forward very well and caused problems throughout, Mertesacker: 6 – strong and resolute, Koscielny: 6 – again, solid enough, Monreal: 7 – pushed on well, good cross for Giroud’s goal; Flamini: 5 – not influential before pulling hamstring after 20 minutes, Cazorla: 8 – some brilliant passing from the little Spaniard, including the assist for Walcott’s goal; Ozil: 9 – a brilliant performance, just needed a goal to top it off, Ramsey: 6 – overshadowed by the brilliance of those around him, decent game, Sanchez: 10 – perfect performance, hat-trick and totally unplayable; Walcott: 8 – some great runs, top centre forward play and took goal well. Subs – Arteta: 6 – caught out a few times but fairly solid, Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5 – no impact at all in all honesty, Giroud: 7 – smart finish for a much-needed goal.