Vardy has a party
➤ Leicester stun 10-man Arsenal with late equaliser
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.