Vardy has a party

➤ Le­ices­ter stun 10-man Arse­nal with late equaliser

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Sam Dean

Once Ed­die Nke­tiah had been shown the red card, the rest was inevitable. It was inevitable that Le­ices­ter City would find a way back into this game, just as it was inevitable that Jamie Vardy would be the man to make the break­through. With his side head­ing to­wards an­other dam­ag­ing post-lock­down de­feat, Vardy stepped for­ward to strike his 10th goal in 10 starts against Arse­nal, the side who once tried to sign him.

Vardy keeps go­ing, even as Le­ices­ter stut­ter in the race for Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball. His goal turned a bad night into a mid­dling night for them, and robbed Arse­nal of some of the mo­men­tum they had gained in re­cent weeks.

While Vardy’s goal was cru­cial for the vis­i­tors, there can be no deny­ing that Nke­tiah’s red card was the mo­ment that changed the game.

The striker had been on the field for only a few min­utes when he lunged into James Justin, studs to leg. It was clear that Nke­tiah was go­ing for the ball, but it was also clear that he did not get it.

Fol­low­ing a check by the video as­sis­tant referee in Stock­ley Park, on-pitch referee Chris Ka­vanagh was ad­vised to look at the pitch­side mon­i­tor. On his way there he was met with some choice words by Mikel Arteta, the Arse­nal head coach, but the de­ci­sion ap­peared straight­for­ward enough. In the mo­ment, within the sta­dium, it felt like a fine ex­am­ple of the tech­nol­ogy be­ing used as it was sup­posed to be.

It should be said, how­ever, that Arteta did not see it this way. The Spa­niard seemed to be­lieve Vardy should have been sent off in the first half, when he tan­gled with Shko­dran Mustafi and struck the Arse­nal de­fender’s boot with his foot. Ac­ci­den­tal? It looked that way, and the of­fi­cials agreed, even if Arteta thought it was com­pa­ra­ble to Nke­tiah’s chal­lenge. Brendan Rodgers, the Le­ices­ter man­ager, said he could not even re­mem­ber the in­ci­dent.

Be­fore Nke­tiah’s red, Le­ices­ter were strug­gling. Arse­nal were not ex­actly coast­ing, but they were in con­trol, on the cusp of a fifth vic­tory in a row and a fourth con­sec­u­tive clean sheet in the Pre­mier League. Nke­tiah’s dis­missal changed all that and cost Arse­nal two points that might prove piv­otal in their own ef­forts to qual­ify for Euro­pean foot­ball.

Arse­nal’s per­for­mance with 11 men had been im­pres­sive, again, and it is in­creas­ingly easy to see the pat­terns that Arteta has been work­ing on be­hind closed doors. Young Bukayo Saka once again pro­vided a clin­i­cal as­sist, with Pierre-Em­er­ick

Aubameyang strik­ing his 20th league goal of the cam­paign.

The real test of Arse­nal’s new­found de­fen­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion, if we can call it that af­ter a few en­cour­ag­ing weeks, came af­ter Nke­tiah’s dis­missal. They sat deep, try­ing to ride out the storm in the swirling north London rain, but De­marai Gray’s cross crept across the box to find Vardy, lurk­ing with cus­tom­ary men­ace, at the back post to score his 22nd goal of the sea­son, af­ter Var had con­firmed no off­side in­fringe­ment.

Chelsea’s vic­tory ear­lier in the day had in­creased the pres­sure on Le­ices­ter to per­form, as they dropped a place to fourth, es­pe­cially as they came into this with­out an away win in the league since New Year’s Day. They still do not look quite as dan­ger­ous as they did in the first half of the sea­son but there was re­silience and char­ac­ter here when it was needed most.

They had ap­proached the night with ag­gres­sion, press­ing high and at­tempt­ing to stop Arse­nal’s flow. It left them ex­posed shortly be­fore the first drinks break. Dani Ceballos curled a through ball into the path of Saka and sud­denly Arse­nal were away. The poor de­fender tasked with stop­ping Saka was Jonny Evans, who found him­self face down on the turf as the teenager slammed on the brakes and then took off again, all in one move. The cross was pre­cise, as is al­ways the case with Saka, and Aubameyang tapped in at the back post.

It was a goal that en­cap­su­lated the best of Saka, who com­mit­ted to a long-term con­tract last week. This was his 12th as­sist in all com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son, with only Manch­ester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Liver­pool’s Trent Alexan­der-Arnold post­ing more among Pre­mier League play­ers.

Not for the first time since the restart, it was the qual­ity of Ceballos in the Arse­nal mid­field that stood out. It has not hap­pened any­where

near enough this sea­son but when he plays like this, long hair fly­ing in the wind, the Spa­niard looks ev­ery inch the Real Madrid mid­fielder. If Arse­nal are able to ex­tend his loan for an­other cam­paign, they surely must.

Le­ices­ter re­lied on the re­flexes of Kasper Sch­me­ichel at times, with Alexan­dre La­cazette twice bring­ing out the best of the vis­it­ing goal­keeper. La­cazette was re­placed by Nke­tiah af­ter 71 min­utes, and Nke­tiah was dis­missed four min­utes later. From there, Le­ices­ter pushed hard. It was Vardy, as ever, who pushed hard­est.

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