After Sunday’s sublime farewell came the ridiculous reality of Arsenal in 2018 as their tour of Premier League terror continued in damning fashion as they slipped to a 3-1 defeat to Leicester that continued their pointless run of away games this year.
Within 20 minutes at the King Power Stadium Arsenal were a goal and a man down, Kelechi Iheanacho pouncing when the Gunners failed to deal with a corner and then being dragged down by Konstantinos Mavropanos when through on goal, earning the centre-back an early red card.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalised early in the second half but Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave away a clumsy penalty converted by Jamie Vardy and a late Riyad Mahrez strike ensured yet another defeat on their travels for the Gunners b.
Arsene Wenger’s side have the home record of title contenders and, coming into today’s game, a points total on the road as bad as relegated West Brom. Not one of their 13 road points has come in 2018.
With nothing to play for – the Gunners are certain of sixth, Leicester are highly likely to finish ninth and will start the season with a new manager anyway – it was all the more enjoyable to simply revel in the hilarity of some of Arsenal’s defensive mishaps.
After Mavropanos’ red card the back four became more of a notion than a system as time and time again the defence abandoned their most fundamental requirements, from positioning to discipline.
That had been the undoing of the young Greek centre-back, who was beaten by Iheanacho to a 50:50 and then grabbed the striker’s shirt as he hared away. Mavropanos could have no complaints when referee Graham Scott invited him to leave the pitch.
By that time Arsenal were already a goal down. Petr Cech had done well to deny Jamie Vardy at the end of one of those electric counter-attacks that are Leicester’s calling card but the rest of the Gunners defence did nothing of any use to deal with the subsequent corner.
The introduction of Shkodran Mustafi soon after Mavropanos’ exit did nothing to improve Arsenal’s organisation and twice he left Ainsley Maitland-Niles to deal with Diabate and Vardy on his own, though on each occasion the former’s cross left something to be desired.
Arsenal brought renewed vigour in the second half and took only seven minutes to draw level. Maitland-Niles bustled in behind the Leicester defence before cutting back for Aubameyang. Jakupovic did well to block the initial effort but was powerless to deny the Arsenal striker his ninth goal in 12 league games on the rebound. Add in four assists and the record signing’s adaptation to the Premier League is becoming the brightest spot of this gloomy start to 2018.
A mistake from either defence seemed the most likely route to a third goal. It was no surprise it came from Arsenal’s. Maitland-Niles was too easily beaten by Demarai Gray. Mustafi’s clearance gave the ball straight back to the winger. Mkhitaryan left a boot hanging.
Vardy rifled the penalty into the roof of the net. Wenger turned to 18-year-old Eddie Nketiah, an increasingly familiar presence in the role of desperate last throw of the dice, but yet again it didn’t work, Mahrez hitting the Gunners on the counter to secure the win in the final minute. Arsenal’s record as the worst away team in the Football League and in Europe’s big five divisions endures.