Mesut Özil orchestrates Arsenal in full flow to quench Leicester’s fire

David Hytner at the Emirates Stadium on 22 October 2018

For Unai Emery the theme of the evening was the perfect 10. It is now 10 victories on the spin in all competitions for his energetically developing Arsenal – seven of them in the Premier League – and the manager owed it all to the maestro in the No 10 shirt.

Mesut Özil had one of those games in which everything came off for him and he was a joy to watch. When he was withdrawn towards the end, after scoring one and playing a central role in Arsenal’s other two – tapped home by the substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – he received a stirring ovation. For the first time in his Arsenal career, Özil had worn the captain’s armband from the outset. How it inspired him.

Leicester dominated the first 30 minutes or so and they could feel aggrieved about the non-award of an early penalty for handball against Rob Holding, which might have led to a second yellow card for the Arsenal defender. Wilfred Ndidi was also inches away from putting them 2-1 in front on 58 minutes only for his header from James Maddison’s corner to come back off the crossbar.

In the end Leicester were blown away by the attacking vigour of Emery’s team, which Özil helped to orchestrate. His goal that cancelled out Hectór Bellerín’s own goal was a beauty but he was only just beginning. It was Özil’s pass that released Bellerín to cross for Aubameyang’s first while his influence was all over the striker’s second.

Arsenal had scored a wonderful team goal through Aaron Ramsey in their previous game – the 5-1 win at Fulham – but Aubameyang’s second was one to rival it. Özil started the move with a flick for the substitute Matteo Guendouzi before he executed a dummy when Bellerín fizzed a pass up to Alexandre Lacazette, who then refound Özil.

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With Aubameyang in the middle, Özil drew Kasper Schmeichel and dinked a pass with the outside of his boot for his teammate to finish.

Özil might even have contributed another assist before his substitution but when he crossed from the left Lacazette was thwarted by Schmeichel at close quarters. The playmaker had more than made his mark and it was difficult to argue with his assessment. “I think we played some sexy football,” Özil tweeted. For the Arsenal support, it feels as though the thrill is back.

The game followed a familiar pattern for Emery and it was a frustration to him that, once again, his team started poorly. By the time Leicester had opened the scoring just after the half hour, when Ben Chilwell’s cross deflected off Bellerín to wrongfoot Bernd Leno, they could already have scored twice.

The controversy came on 18 minutes and it was a mystery as to why the referee, Chris Kavanagh, chose not to penalise Holding. The Leicester bench erupted in a mixture of anger and disbelief and, had Kavanagh acted, he would have faced another decision.

Mesut Özil
Mesut Özil chips the ball over Kasper Schmeichel to create Arsenal’s third goal. Photograph: Matthew Impey/Rex Shutterstock

Moments earlier Holding had been booked for pulling back Kelechi Iheanacho as Arsenal held their high and risky defensive line and the Leicester attacker threatened to run clear. The Hand of Holding looked set to add up to a second yellow card. When he jumped with Ndidi his hand was high in the air and there was a clear movement from it towards the ball.

Schmeichel described it as the clearest penalty he had ever seen while even Claude Puel expressed a strong opinion.

“All the people in the stadium saw the penalty,” the Leicester manager said. “It was a penalty and a second yellow card.“

Leicester finished with 10 men when Jamie Vardy had to sprint off in the 87th minute, having been gripped by a stomach bug. “He couldn’t digest the penalty decision,” Puel said.

The penalty was not Arsenal’s only let-off in the early running. Harry Maguire ought to have scored with a header from Maddison’s free-kick, with Arsenal’s defensive line in tatters – Leno sprang to his left to save – while Iheanacho had earlier seen one shot deflect over off Holding and another pushed out by the diving goalkeeper.

Puel had cause to reflect on his team’s lack of clinical edge because Arsenal roared back at the end of the first half. Schmeichel kept out a Granit Xhaka free-kick and an Alex Iwobi shot while Iwobi almost pulled down a high ball as he ran clear and Holding missed a flick header from Xhaka’s corner.

Özil’s finish for the equaliser was typically silky. He injected the urgency on halfway, swapped passes with Bellerín and, meeting the ball on the bounce, sent a low, left-footed shot in off the far post.

Puel’s 3-4-1-2 formation asked questions of Arsenal in the first half, with Maddison impressing in the attacking central midfield role. Chilwell’s pace from left wing-back was also a feature. Leicester had width and shape.

But a theme of Emery’s tenure has been the ability to respond to the flow of a match, to make the necessary adjustments. How he did so here, and it is doubtful whether he has ever enjoyed such a quick dividend from a double substitution.

He sent on Aubameyang and Guendouzi for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Stephan Lichtsteiner in the 61st minute, with Xhaka dropping to left-back to accommodate Guendouzi in midfield. Five minutes later and Aubameyang had scored twice, although both goals owed everything to the creation. This was Özil’s night.

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