Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City
Goals: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.9m) | Jamie Vardy (£9.7m)
Assists: Bukayo Saka (£4.7m) | Demarai Gray (£5.0m)
Bonus Points: Vardy x3, Aubameyang x2, Kasper Schmeichel (£5.4m)
A late goal from Jamie Vardy (£9.7m) earned Leicester City a point and denied Arsenal a fourth straight league win.
A sluggish return from lockdown meant more Vardy family members had issued writs against Coleen Rooney than scored Premier League goals, until the striker broke a three-match drought with a brace against Crystal Palace in Gameweek 33+.
His patchy form had lost him close to 600,000 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) owners since Gameweek 28, but three goals in the last four days means he’s now back in the top five for transfers-in heading into the weekend’s fixtures.
Vardy is also two goals clear of the pack in the race for the Golden Boot; a gap that had been reduced to one when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.9m) opened the scoring last night.
The Arsenal forward had been in poor form himself, with four blanks spanning the start and end of lockdown, but three goals and an assist from Gameweek 32+ onwards has now brought in 26 points for his 23.1% ownership.
What it hasn’t done is persuade many to bring him into their Fantasy squads. Aubameyang is not even in the top 30 for Gameweek 35+ purchases as an immediate schedule involving the North London Derby and then a visit from Liverpool seems too rich for most people’s blood.
Fixtures trumping form? Presumably, because the Gunners were unlucky not to make it four league wins on the bounce, and ten victories in their last 13 matches in all competitions, last night.
That they didn’t was down to a superb display by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (£5.4m), who made five stops during a one-sided first-half, and a red card that reduced the home team to ten men for the final 15 minutes of the match.
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah (£4.4m) had only been on the pitch for four minutes when he failed to control a sliding tackle on the rain-slick pitch and he went in high and studs-up on James Justin (£4.7m). He was initially only booked for the challenge, until VAR had other ideas and referee Chris Kavanagh agreed once he’d taken a look on the pitch-side monitor.
A Foxes team that had threatened only intermittently before the sending-off were ruthless after it.
Manager Brendan Rodgers went from a 3-4-1-2 to a 4-5-1 formation, which hugely improved the supply line to Vardy, as although the forward ostensibly had a strike partner in Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.7m), the Nigeria international dropped very deep for much of the match, leaving Vardy isolated up front.
The pair did combine well on occasion, with Iheanacho having a goal ruled out for offside in the first half, but once Harvey Barnes (£6.0m) replaced him and Nketiah trudged off a few minutes later, the visitors used patience, and the width of the pitch, to stretch Arsenal.
The tactic finally came good with six minutes to go when Vardy slotted home a cross from the impressive substitute Demarai Gray (£5.0m), although VAR had a long, long look at possible offsides before the goal was finally confirmed.
Rodgers was somewhat one-eyed in his post-match reaction to the result.
“I thought a point was the minimum we deserved. At 11 versus 10 we managed it really well, got the goal and unfortunate not to have got a second.” – Brendan Rodgers
Arsenal would have been extremely unlucky not to get something from a game they ran for lengthy spells.
Schmeichel earned two save points and a bonus for his superb display, denying Bukayo Saka (£4.7m) and Hector Bellerin (£5.3m) with fine stops and Alexandre Lacazette (£9.2m) with a brilliant one.
He could do little about the goal, however, as Aubameyang finished following fine work by Saka.
The 5.4%-owned midfielder, made it two straight Gameweeks with a haul – and three in his last four starts – as Arteta continues to use him as part of a front three.
But what is great news for some is potentially less pleasing for others – Lacazette was handed the central striker role last night, meaning Aubameyang’s owners had to make do with their man cutting in from the left flank.
Arteta, however, believes the move does not harm his attacking threat.
“He is scoring a lot of goals coming from that position, he’s done it all his career. We know he can play as at nine but at the moment the balance of the team is a little bit better like this. He is a team player.” – Mikel Arteta
The stats back the boss up – Aubameyang and Lacazette had exactly the same number of shots (two), all of which were inside the area, and they also had one big chance each. The Gabon international also had four penalty area touches to his teammate’s two.
While the Gunners’ attacking prowess has rarely been in doubt, their defensive improvement has been impressive under Arteta.
A fourth straight clean sheet was beyond them last night, in part thanks to Nketiah’s indiscretion, but the much-maligned Shkodran Mustafi (£5.1m) has been a man transformed in recent weeks, although his major contribution last night involved taking a stray Vardy boot to the face, an (entirely accidental) incident that the Arsenal coach thought should have led to the forward’s dismissal.
“I was agitated for a previous incident that was a red card. The referee has made a decision and we have to learn from that, as well it is our fault because it is the fourth time since I have been here we have played with 10 men and we have to reflect on that.” – Mikel Arteta
That speaks volumes for the, let’s just say, ‘more robust’ Arsenal that is emerging under their new coach, and although few Fantasy managers seem keen to invest right now, their final two fixtures – away at Aston Villa and home to Watford – should tempt plenty more.
The situation is, essentially, reversed for Leicester.
The Foxes travel to Bournemouth and then host Sheffield United next. Small wonder, then, that Vardy is enjoying purchases.
But they end the season with a trip to Tottenham and a potentially huge home game with Manchester United that could determine which of them earns a Champions League spot for next year.
That will mean a motivated, and mostly rotation-free, side from now until the end of the campaign, but Leicester’s patchy form – a win, a loss and three draws – since Gameweek 30+ is not wholly convincing.
Arsenal (3-4-3): Martínez; Kolasinac, D Luiz, Mustafi; Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos (Torreira 80), Bellerín; Aubameyang (Maitland-Niles 90+3), Lacazette (Nketiah 71), Saka (Willock 71).
Leicester City (3-4-1-2: Schmeichel; Söyüncü, Evans, Bennett (Gray 76); Justin, Tielemans, Ndidi (Praet 82), Albrighton (Fuchs 59); Pérez; Vardy, Iheanacho (Barnes 59).
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