Arteta revolution gathers pace as Ozil misses out again
It is now seven domestic cup-ties without defeat for Mikel Arteta, and his revolution at Arsenal continues to gather momentum with Mesut Ozil nowhere to be seen.
Arteta has already delivered silverware with last season’s FA Cup victory and this was a promising start to a competition that has proved an annual struggle for Arsenal over the past two decades.
You have to go back to 1993 for the last time Arsenal lifted the trophy in this competition, but Arteta’s new era is showing tangible signs of progress, with Ozil’s absence from the match-day squad again the big talking point.
Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi were both excluded from the 18, and Arteta’s judgment cannot be questioned on the evidence of his reign so far.
Leicester City, semi-finalists last season, were swept aside and Arteta is yet to lose a cup-tie in England since his appointment in December last year.
He could face a test of that record in the next round if Liverpool can overcome Lincoln City, but this was another professional, disciplined performance from an Arsenal team brimming with adventure.
There is clearly no way back for Ozil now, and the message could not be clearer unless Arteta grabbed him by the shirt collar and roared in his face.
“The team is evolving and it is very difficult for some players, not just Mesut, to make the squad,” Arteta said.
“It’s difficult for others who weren’t involved in the Premier League. I understand the questions, but I have to do my job as straight as possible. I select the players in the best condition.
“We are picking the players we believe are the best for each game. We have a squad of 26 or 27 players and we cannot give them many moments.
“I’m really happy with the performance, first of all with the attitude and the way we approached the game mentally.”
This was a desperately disappointing night for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, who made 11 changes and revealed after the game that influential midfielder Wilfred Ndidi could miss up to three months with a groin injury.
With funds restricted, Rodgers is already battling to sign a new centre-half before the transfer window closes, so the absence of Ndidi comes at a poor time.
Leicester barely troubled Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno, with James Maddison producing their best chance with an audacious chip which struck a post late in the first half. It was a brilliant piece of individual skill, and underlined just how much Rodgers missed the attacking midfielder in last season’s run-in.
Maddison was returning after three months out with a hip injury but, with Jamie Vardy not included in the squad, Leicester were devoid of an attacking threat.
“If we’re going to lose the game, I’d prefer we lost it that way,” Rodgers said. “We showed good energy, we pressed well and had moments of quality. I thought the cohesion was very good. If I’m being critical, we didn’t get shots off quickly enough and didn’t combine well enough, but the attitude and energy were good. The disappointment was that it was two scruffy goals.”
Arsenal had lost on their previous three visits to the King Power Stadium, but controlled much of the game, with the front three of Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pepe troubling Leicester with their movement and swift, incisive passing.
Heavy rain was constant in the second half and there was a downpour of misfortune for Leicester as they conceded the opening goal in the 57th minute.
Christian Fuchs misjudged the bounce of a ball to free Bukayo Saka, who released Pepe in the area. Pepe’s initial cross was blocked by goalkeeper Danny Ward, but then his shot on the rebound came back off a post and took a wicked deflection off Fuchs to fly into the unguarded net.
It was a goal that had been coming, and it was the first own goal Arsenal had benefited from since April 2019.
Leicester did have a chance to equalise in the 81st minute, arguably against the run of play, but substitute Ayoze Perez headed Marc Albrighton’s free-kick wide of the near post.
Arsenal completed a routine win in added time when Nketiah poked the ball past Ward, as the Leicester goalkeeper and defence hesitated.
In cup competitions, Arteta seems to have the magic touch.
Leicester City (3-4-3) Ward 5; Amartey 6, Morgan 6, Fuchs 5; Albrighton 5, Choudhury 5, Dewsbury-Hall 6 (Perez 76), Thomas 6; Gray 6, Iheanacho 5, Maddison 6 (Praet 72). Subs Jakupovic (g), Justin, Tielemans, Barnes, Knight.
Arsenal (3-4-3) Leno 6; Holding 6, Luiz 7, Kolasinac 7; Maitland-Niles 6, Willock 6 (Ceballos 78), Elneny 6, Saka 6 (Bellerin 87); Pepe 6, Nketiah 6, Nelson 7 (Willian 72). Subs Runarsson (g), Bellerin, Saliba, Lacazette, Xhaka. Booked Elneny.
Referee Peter Bankes (Wirral).
Calamity: Christian Fuchs looks dejected after turning the ball into his own net, as Arsenal players celebrate the breakthrough