Mikel Arteta has said he was ‘proud’ of his side’s display after his Arsenal side came from behind to beat Leicester City at the Kind Power Stadium in Sunday afternoon.
The two sides had contrasting results in the Europa League in midweek, Arsenal grabbing a late winner to edge past Benfica, while Leicester slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Slavia Prague to crash out of the competition.
It was the Foxes who made the early breakthrough, former Anderlecht midfielder Youri Tielemans allowed ample free space to charge at the visitors’ defence, before firing past ‘keeper Bernd Leno who perhaps should have done better.
The away side then thought they’d won a penalty after Wilfried Ndidi brought down Nicolas Pepe, although VAR adjudged that the foul had taken place just outside the penalty area, despite looking extremely tight.
Their positive reply after conceding was rewarded, however, as former Chelsea duo, Willian and David Luiz combined to bring the Gunners level, Luiz heading home brilliantly from his compatriot’s dinked free-kick.
Mikel Arteta’s side then took a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time, Alexandre Lacazette netting from the penalty spot after Ndidi was penalised for a clear handball.
The visitors then extended their lead not long after the restart, a swift breakaway rounded off by wideman Pepe, following good work by Martin Odegaard and Willian inside the penalty area.
Nicolas Pépé’s game by numbers vs. Leicester:
8 duels won
6 touches in opp. box
5 fouls won
5 ball recoveries
1 shot on target
Leicester struggled to deal with him. pic.twitter.com/fHiICNYKNs
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 28, 2021
The hosts had seen Harvey Barnes forced off with a knee injury just prior to that goal, while Jonny Evans also had to be withdrawn midway through the second-half, adding to their already lengthy injury list.
In truth, the Gunners held on with relative comfort in the final half-hour to claim a vital three points in their push for European qualification, with Arteta admitting he was ‘proud of his players’ performance.
“I’m really proud of the team,” he told BT Sport. “The character that we showed, the personality that we played, how we reacted after the disappointment, we start again we conceded the goal really early because it puts us against this team in a bad scenario, because that’s the game that they want, to have space to run in behind.
“But then, we looked composed, we looked confident. The energy, the positiveness around the team was really good. We create some good moments and scored some good goals and I think overall, we deserved to win.”
Mikel Arteta made six changes from the victory over Benfica, including leaving Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench, though the move ultimately paid off with the Gunners boss revealing that he wanted to hand game time to the rest of his squad.
“It’s not that we have to rotate, I want to rotate,” he said. “I want to give the chance to the players because they deserve it. They way they train every day, the way they are behind the players who are playing, and the only way to do it is to play them.
2015 – This was Arsenal’s first away victory against a team starting the day in the top three of the Premier League table since January 2015 (2-0 v Manchester City) – they were winless in their last 14 such games coming into today (D3 L11). Test. pic.twitter.com/rCE59eFlWV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 28, 2021
“You can use any words to motivate a player, but in the end, they have to be on the field, and I am so pleased – even making a lot of changes – we were able to produce this performance.
Recent months have seen the young stars come to the fore, yet after strong performances from the likes of Willian and Lacazette at the King Power Stadium, Arteta insisted that his senior players need to show more leadership.
“They are the ones who have to drive the boat forwards, and then we can add something with the young talented players that they have. But it cannot be the other way round. They have to take that leadership and be accountable when they are in the team because they are the ones who need to produce week in, week out to give us some stability.”
Arsenal are next in action against Burnley in the Premier League next Saturday.