It was never in doubt really. No, not the result. This match always was going to be the one that would determine if Arsenal would have any say in who lifted the league trophy come May.
Over the course of a season for any team, be it one challenging for the title or even one hoping to avoid the drop, there are those matches seen as definitely essential to the success of the team. Matches hyped to the extent of hyperbole, almost as if the team would cease to exist, or even spontaneously combust if the team has the temerity of not snatching all available points.
And when that team is Arsenal, that hasn’t won the league in a decade and because all the usual suspects are struggling, so the season title has already been christened ‘Arsenal’s to lose’, there are more must win matches than you can shake your fist at. Almost as if Arsenal is not allowed an off season. Even if the manager did not buy a single outfield player in the summer.
There was the season opener against West Ham, and because we lost that, then the next match against Crystal Palace in south London. Then the match against Man Utd at the Emirates. The two matches against Chelsea. Then all London derbies. The home match against Man City. All matches against relegation strugglers. Somehow Arsenal seemed to have more must win matches than most. Strange.
But if there was ever a king of all must win matches, this was it. Lying five points behind the surprise leaders, failing to get maximum points against them would mean more than just failing to win another must win game.
The rise of Leicester City this season has been meteoric, if unexpected. Nobody could have predicted that this team filled with former lower league players and cast-offs would be leading the table in February. Their story has been almost Cinderella-like. But if Jamie Vardy is going to have to dive in order to put his team in the lead, then Cinderella can fuck right off.
diving away team set up as expected. Two banks of four with two strikers always looking out for counterattacking opportunities. With that probably in mind, the Arsenal seemed cautious and contemplative in the first half with hardly a shot at goal but limited Leicester to only very few opportunities.
A draw at the half would have been a fair indication of the game, even if the home team had the lion share of the possession. But Vardy was having none of it, saw Nacho Montreal attempt to poke the ball from him when he found himself face to face with him and proceeded to tumble over. And Martin Atkinson being Martin Atkinson, he saw it as a penalty.
Things were definitely much better after the break for the Arsenal. The play was immediately better, passes crispier, even the crowd got much louder. Leicester started buckling under the pressure and Atkinson started doing his job and began to dish out yellows for some robust tackles from the Leicester players who have been at it all game.
The tide turned finally when he gave Jay Simpson his second yellow and with the introduction of Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck. The substitutes would score both goals; Walcott from a delightful knock-back from Olivier Giroud who had a strange but good game, and Welbeck from what was the last opportunity for the game, deep into stoppage time.
This despite the team having enough chances in the second half to run up a rugby score. Alexis Sanchez in particular should have scored a hat-trick, Giroud had two headers from corners he should have scored from, Aaron Ramsey even had a couple of opportunities. All these when the Leicester players weren’t putting their bodies on the line and blocking goal-bound shots with all parts of their anatomy, legally and otherwise.
Only two points behind the leaders with 12 games to go and with momentum surely behind Arsenal, it is all up for grabs now. But the best part of it all is that finally we have managed to win a must win game.