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Leicester 1-3 Arsenal
by Layth Yousif
at Filbert Way
MIKEL ARTETA hailed his side for showing “courage” after Arsenal beat Leicester City 3-1 at Filbert Street on Sunday lunchtime.
In glorious late winter sunshine, the Foxes went ahead through an early Youri Tielemans strike — which was cancelled out by a David Luiz header and Alex Lacazette’s penalty moments before the interval, before a Nicolas Pepe goal after the break sealed the comeback.
Arsenal made six changes from the dramatic 3-2 victory over Benfica on Thursday evening. Hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was benched and in the captain’s place came Lacazette with the armband.
Fellow starters in Piraeus, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos also moved to the bench, replaced by Pepe, Willian, and Mohamed Elneny, while Cedric Soares swapped with Hector Bellerin. Pablo Mari came in for Gabriel who did not make the squad.
While the Gunners were relieved to progress in the Europe League, earning a return trip to Greece for the next round against Olympiacos, the Foxes were licking their wounds following their exit at the hands of Slavia Prague following a 2-0 home defeat.
Boss Brendan Rodgers opted to play Kelechi Iheanacho in the No 10 position vacated by the injured James Maddison, while Harvey Barnes, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira returned to the starting XI.
It didn’t take long for the home side to put their European disappointment behind them with an impressive sixth minute strike from Tielemans. The 23-year-old former Anderlecht and Monaco midfielder showed his talent by driving inside and away from Granit Xhaka to fire low across Bend Leno to put the Foxes 1-0 ahead.
Tielemans nearly turned villain moments later when tangling with Pepe with the official pointing to the spot.
Much to the north Londoner’s disappointment, referee Paul Tierney proved to be no relation of Gunners left-back Kieran, when VAR forced him to downgrade his initial spot-kick decision to a free-kick, which came to nothing.
The match fell into a shapeless spell with Arsenal probing for an equaliser, which saw Willian fire wide.
The Gunners leveller came on 39 minutes when Willian’s free-kick into the box saw Luiz connect with a well-angled header.
Shouts of joy rang out from the Gunners contingent in an otherwise empty stadium, as the centre-back directed the ball past Kasper Schmeichel and low into the net at his far post to make it 1-1. The strike also marked the former Chelsea attacker’s fifth assist in a challenging season.
A second penalty award of the afternoon was to follow shortly after — this time a genuine one, when, after a quick check on the monitor, referee Tierney gave a spot-kick following Pepe’s shot striking Wilfred Ndidi’s raised arm.
Lacazette stepped up to score moments before the interval, as Arsenal completed a remarkable turnaround to head into the break 2-1 ahead.
The goal was his fifth in his last six away league games, along with two assists — a good run of form to enter March and an important run of fixtures.
Rodgers changed Thomas with Marc Albrighton at half-time, yet moments after the restart he was forced into a second substitution, when Cengiz Under replaced the stricken Barnes, who was carried off with a serious injury.
Worse was to follow for the Foxes when Pepe slotted home from close range to make the score 3-1 on 52 minutes, the strike being his fourth in his last seven league starts.
No wonder Arteta was full of praise for his side after the match.
“The way we are playing looks much closer to what we want. The way the team is evolving, we have some consistency in recent months,” he said.
“It’s about how we played against top-quality opposition. We have to impose ourselves — it doesn’t matter who we play against, we have to have courage.
“The team is clearly improving. It’s taking a direction I like.”
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