Arsenal climb to fourth after holding off Leicester

Arsenal got back on track after their derby misery with a 2-1 victory over Leicester that lifted the Gunners into fourth place in the Premier League on Tuesday.

Arsene Wenger’s side had slumped to a dispiriting late defeat against north London rivals Tottenham on Saturday, but they rebounded at the Emirates Stadium thanks to first half goals from Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott.

It was hardly Arsenal’s most dominant display and they had to survive a Leicester fightback in the second half following Andrej Kramaric’s strike for the visitors.

But Wenger, whose team will drop back down to fifth if Manchester United beat Burnley on Wednesday, will be relieved to see his team’s morale wasn’t damaged by that derby defeat at the weekend.

The only downside for Arsenal was an injury to Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

The result was another blow for Leicester manager Nigel Pearson, who had been under huge pressure following his touchline scuffle with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur and then speculation on Sunday that he had been sacked.

But, as impressive as this display was, it doesn’t alleviate Leicester’s situation and they are now five points adrift of safety.

What will infuriate Pearson, more than any opposition player accidentally sliding into him as McArthur did, was the more deliberate barge which set up Koscielny’s opening goal.

While Riyad Mahrez had enjoyed the freedom of the home side’s left flank before seeing a show narrowly deflected wide by David Ospina, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil had to graft to eke out their first chance of the game.

A fine ball from the German put Walcott through, only for Mark Schwarzer to stand up strong, and the goalkeeper then pushed away another Ozil shot minutes later.

It was from the resulting 27th minute corner, though, that all Leicester’s hard work was undone.

As Ozil whipped in the set-piece, Sanchez barged Paul Konchesky aside, and Koscielny was left with enough open space to easily guide the ball in.

– Deeper damage –

Leicester continued to gamely battle, but there was a feeling the deeper damage had been done.

By the end of the half, Arsenal were ripping them apart, and starting to create chances at will.

Eventually, Arsenal broke through again as Ozil battered a shot at Schwarzer.

The goalkeeper could only parry it into the path of Walcott, who emphatically volleyed it into the net on 41 minutes.

It could easily have been 3-0 just before the break, as Leicester were forced into increasingly desperate challenges to keep the home side at bay.

After what had been in a hugely tepid start, in which Arsenal genuinely seemed to have been affected by the weekend’s defeat, they had rediscovered their recent verve, only to relax a little too much again.

Wenger’s side offered little once the second half started, and it wasn’t long until Leicester let them know they were in a match.

By the 61st minute, impressive new signing Kramaric had already brought a fine save from David Ospina before forcing a corner.

That broke to the edge of the box to Kramaric, who fired home to make it 2-1.

Suddenly, it was Leicester again doing all the running, with Mahrez back in the game.

He almost made it 2-2 on 73 minutes, but his surge and shot finished narrowly outside Ospina’s post.

Kramaric was presented with another opportunity 11 minutes from the end but, with Arsenal defenders closing in, he opted to try and chip the ball over the goalkeeper.

Ospina caught it, and the home side were able to catch their breath.

They survived until the end, but substitute Ramsey didn’t, as he had to go off injured just minutes after coming on.

Photo Credits : AFP

Wenger upbeat as injured Gunners return

Arsene Wenger is upbeat about a strong second half of the season showing from an Arsenal side set to capitalise on the return of injured players like Mesut Ozil and Mikel Arteta.

Wenger expects Ozil and Arteta to return to action in January, while Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny are due back imminently to help reignite the Gunners’ quest for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The Christmas schedule features fixtures against QPR, West Ham and Southampton and Wenger believes Arsenal, who occupy sixth place in the table, will soon be in a position to realise their potential.

“To give absolutely everything in every single game until the end of the season,” replied Wenger when asked to outline his aspirations for his team heading into the festive period on Tuesday.

“I believe that with the injuries coming back we will have a much stronger squad than we had for the past two months.

“I believe 2015 can be very exciting if we manage to get our injured players back and have a good run.

“Finishing in the top four is always the minimum required here. We have the Champions League and we have the FA Cup and we want to come back in a much stronger position in the Premier League, and I think we will.

“Our Christmas is not an easy schedule – it’s a tough schedule. There are three games in a very short period of time and we can make up points.

“It’s a period where you have an opportunity to make points. Our opponents will think that as well, but let’s just put the performances in and capitalise on it.”

Ozil and Arteta are on target for January comebacks from knee and calf injuries and although Ramsey and Koscielny may miss the Boxing Day showdown with hamstring and calf problems, they could both be in action against Southampton on New Year’s Day.

“Ozil will be back at the beginning of January. His rehab has gone well but it took time. He works very hard. He is very focused. Fitness-wise, he is there,” Wenger said.

“Arteta is progressing well. He had a little setback with an ankle problem but it should be very quick now. He will not play before January.

“Ramsey has a chance to be fit for Southampton. The closest at the moment is Koscielny. I believe he’s a bit short for QPR, maybe has a chance for West Ham on Sunday.”

Arsenal are four points adrift of fourth place West Ham and lost further ground on Champions League qualification after conceding an equaliser deep into stoppage time of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Per Mertesacker’s defending for Martin Skrtel’s header has been criticised, but Wenger refuses to single out his Germany World Cup winner for blame.

“I don’t want to go into any individual assessment. I believe Mertesacker gives his best and that on the corner we conceded it was a more organisational and collective problem because no one talks,” Wenger said.

“It is difficult for the players who played at the World Cup. I said many times you don’t see them really before November and that is the case.

“It’s very difficult for them to get the hunger straight away to go Stoke and win. It takes time to settle and to come back to normal life.”