Sport

Aaron Ramsdale excels as Arsenal beat Leicester to extend unbeaten streak

The King Power Stadium was rapidly emptying by the time Arsenal’s players strode over towards their fans in the far corner of the ground. One by one they took their curtain call. Gabriel, the scorer of the first goal, hurled his shirt gleefully into the crowd. Aaron Ramsdale, whose first-half save from James Maddison’s free-kick had to be seen to be believed, was given the biggest cheer of all.

The mind drifted back to a press conference Mikel Arteta gave in late August, after Arsenal had lost their first three games of the season in calamitous circumstances. In it, he railed at the negativity surrounding the club, insisting that certain people were out to “bury us”. At the time it felt like a doomed and transparent attempt to instil some sort of siege mentality at a club that was rapidly drifting into irrelevance. But you know, maybe he was on to something. Arsenal are a happier and more cohesive club than it has been for a long time.

You could see that singularity of purpose on the pitch, in the slick passing and movement, the confidence, the well-drilled corner routine from which Gabriel opened the scoring, the unstinting work-rate, the defensive structure in which everyone knows their job.

Two early goals put them into a position of dominance that – despite a second-half Leicester surge nourished by the famous King Power roar – they never really looked like surrendering.

If ever you wanted proof football goes in cycles, then surely it was the sight of Leicester being confounded by an opposition playing 4-4‑2. And even if Arteta’s Arsenal and Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning side were two quite different animals, there was a speed and directness to Arsenal going forward that may just take a few teams by surprise this season.

In the defensive phase the simplicity of their shape gave them a rigidity and toughness that has not – shall we say – always been associated with Arsenal sides of recent vintage.

For all their defensive discipline, this is also a more expressive and fluent Arsenal than many of Arteta’s earlier sides. They are not afraid to try long shots, to carry the ball at speed, to take players on. Bukayo Saka, a player who is becoming increasingly influential, had another fine game on the right wing. Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga are beginning to gel in midfield.

Leicester, for their part, seemed to lack a little heat. The tempo was not quite there, the attacking patterns felt laboured, the press was uncharacteristically slack. Time and again Arsenal were allowed to walk the ball out of defence. Time and again Ramsdale was allowed to ping the ball straight to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 60 yards away under little pressure. Time and again Jamie Vardy would receive the ball with his back to goal and few options.

Meanwhile, their defence remains vulnerable, particularly at set pieces. Here, Ben White was the battering ram at the near post, clearing the space for Gabriel to attack Saka’s corner. Saka also helped create the second goal, the sparkling Emile Smith Rowe smashing home the loose ball after Alexandre Lacazette was dispossessed in the Leicester area.

Brendan Rodgers tried to change things in the second half, matching Arsenal’s 4-4-2 and bringing on the pace of Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman. Though they dominated the second half in strict numerical terms – 235 completed passes to 98, 11 shots to four – the sting had gone out of them long before the end.

Arteta responded by withdrawing Lacazette and introducing Martin Ødegaard to boost the midfield and with the energised Ramsdale at the helm, they saw out the win with few alarms.

“It was an awful start to the game,” Rodgers said. “We were so passive and lacked energy in our pressing. We made it far too easy. For me, it’s concentration. You have to be on it every single game.”

For Arteta, it was a game Arsenal had shown the “courage to dominate and impose their game”, before having to “suffer” in the second half.

For Arsenal’s fans over recent years suffering has long become second nature. Yet they sit close to the Champions League spots, nine games unbeaten after their nightmarish start.

More crucially, there is an energy and an optimism to them at the moment: a club that has glimpsed its future and for the first time in a while, doesn’t entirely hate what it sees.