Leicester City and Arsenal drew 0-0 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as the top two teams from last season canceled each other out.
The game sprung into life in the final stages with Petr Cech denying Riyad Mahrez with a great stop and Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud adding extra impetus to Arsenal’s attack late on but neither team could find a way through as contentious calls stole the show instead.
Here’s what we learned from a tight, cagey encounter at the KP.
Referee Mark Clattenburg took center stage on Saturday surrounding multiple missed PK calls, red card controversy and more. It was not an easy afternoon for one of the top refs in the game who officiated the UEFA Champions League and EURO 2016 final this summer.
He did get the big decision in the first half correct as Danny Drinkwater looked to have been fouled in the box by Laurent Koscielny with Cech off his line. However, given the luxury of seeing several replays, Clattenburg got it spot on. You can clearly see from Koscielny’s tackle that he got a toe on the ball and the fact that the direction of the ball moved away from where Drinkwater was running says it all. Great call from Clattenburg.
What wasn’t great was that first he allowed Francis Coquelin to stay on the pitch and then somehow he didn’t award Leicester a penalty in the 90th minute.
When it comes to Coquelin, he had been shown a yellow card in the first half and then at the start of the second half the Frenchman clattered into Mahrez but somehow survived not getting a second yellow. The more contentious and perhaps pivotal call was Clattenburg not awarding a PK to Leicester after substitute Ahmed Musa raced into the box and clearly — I mean, clearly — had his heels clipped by Hector Bellerin.
Clattenburg had a great view of the incident and there’s no way that wasn’t a penalty kick. Those are the kind of decisions which seemed to go Leicester’s way so much on their march to the PL trophy last season. Luck was not with them on Saturday.
Koscielny was a monster at the heart of Arsenal’s defense. The French national team center back returned for the Gunners after his extended break following EURO 2016 and he skippered the team and led by example.
In the first half a point of contention arose surrounding his last-ditch tackle on Drinkwater in the box and on first viewing it looked like Koscielny had got it wrong. However, he didn’t put a foot wrong all game long and on a second and third viewing it was clear he got a toe on the ball just before Drinkwater. Sublime defending.
In the 69th minute Jamie Vardy raced clear and Koscielny cut off the angle expertly and even if he knew he couldn’t get to Vardy he made sure he wasn’t going to get a clear shot on goal. Youngster Rob Holding looked more assured to have Koscielny’s experience alongside him and Arsenal’s entire back line seemed to be back at ease after their horror show against Liverpool last weekend. Koscielny’s stock has risen considerably over the last few weeks and after Saturday’s display it underlines just how important he is to the Gunners.
Two other players returned to action for Arsenal following their EURO 20016 exertions as Mesut Ozil slotted back in seamlessly and Olivier Giroud made good runs but wasn’t found by his teammates. For all the doom and gloom which surrounded Arsenal following their opening weekend defeat against Liverpool, you have to remind yourself that when everyone is fit and available, they have a heck of a squad… even if they need to buy one more center back and a central striker.
SOLID LEICESTER RETURNS
With Robert Huth back at the heart of Leicester’s defense the reigning champs looked more solid defensively than they had been in his absence away at Hull City while he served the remaining game of his three-match ban.
Overall there was a better organization about the Foxes with Nampalys Mendy and Drinkwater providing a solid screen in front of the back four and the only time Leicester really looked like being unlocked was when Mendy hobbled off in the second half and Ozil arrived with his weaving runs.
At the heart of Leicester’s defense, Huth and Wes Morgan just understand each other and they always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. In the first half Alexis Sanchez slotted in Bellerin and as he raced into the box Huth fell down. But, who was there to block Bellerin’s cross and clear the danger? Yep, you guessed it. Morgan.
Claudio Ranieri lamented his Leicester side in their shock defeat at Hull on the opening day for not playing with togetherness. In front of a fired up home crowd, who still seemed to be in a celebratory mood from last season’s incredible title run, Ranieri couldn’t accuse his team of lacking togetherness against Arsenal. This was more like the old Leicester from last season in that on their way to winning the title, even when they didn’t win games they didn’t look like beating themselves either.
If they can stay solid at the back then Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Co. will still score plenty this season to keep this journey going.