Arsenal’s Spanish defender Nacho Monreal celebrates after his shot is deflected into the Leicester net by Leicester City’s German defender Robert Huth for th eopening goal of the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium in London on April 26, 2017. Arsenal won the game 1-0.Glyn KIRK / AFP
Left-back Nacho Monreal proved decisive for the second time in four days as Arsenal snatched a late 1-0 victory over champions Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
With a largely sterile game drifting to a goalless draw, Monreal let fly with a shot that was arrowing wide before it struck Robert Huth and diverted past Kasper Schemichel for an own goal.
Monreal had volleyed in a fine equaliser in Arsenal’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday.
His latest intervention took Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal up to sixth place in the table, four points off the Champions League berths.
Leicester, meanwhile, are still not yet safe from relegation, despite their six-point cushion above the drop zone.
The goal triggered a lively and tetchy finish to a game that had previously meandered along at a soporific rhythm.
A series of contentious incidents included a 90th-minute clash between Christian Fuchs and Alexis Sanchez, who attempted to prevent the Leicester man from launching one of his trademark long throws.
Fuchs deliberately threw the ball at the Chilean’s shoulder and Sanchez inexplicably threw himself to the ground holding his face.
It had seemed as though the Arsenal faithful were resigned to life outside the Champions League, judging by the swathes of empty seats at the Emirates. Each of the upper tiers was no more than two-thirds full.
The hosts’ job was almost made harder after just seven minutes when Sanchez sloppily gave away possession just outside his own area.
Riyad Mahrez pounced and fed Marc Albrighton, whose low cross was swept into the side-netting by one-time Arsenal target Jamie Vardy.
Gradually, though, the game fell into the expected pattern of Arsenal possession against a packed Leicester defence.
Francis Coquelin tried his luck from distance in the 17th minute with a long-range effort that Leicester goalkeeper Schmeichel could only parry away after losing his footing.
– Muted atmosphere –
At the other end, Petr Cech produced a breathtaking one-handed reaction save to tip over a Mahrez shot following a long throw from Fuchs.
Back came Arsenal through the dancing feet of first Hector Bellerin, then Theo Walcott.
Where Bellerin found his way to goal blocked, Walcott tricked his way between defenders before Schmeichel saved his flicked shot.
If the general atmosphere was muted, the Leicester contingent were enjoying their evening as they filled the north London air with a rendition of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!”
It was a curious encounter, with long passages of patient play interspersed with moments of excitement and individual brilliance.
One such moment came five minutes before half-time when Mahrez jinked between two defenders, only to shoot into the side-netting.
Sanchez then picked up the ball and left the crossbar vibrating with a ferocious 20-yard shot.
The pattern continued after the interval.
A Wilfred Ndidi header was comfortably saved by Cech before Granit Xhaka was the next to find a moment of inspiration with a 20-yard shot that Schmeichel pushed aside with difficulty.
Wenger replaced Kieran Gibbs with Danny Welbeck in an effort to inject his side with greater urgency. Minutes later, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud were also introduced.
Leicester substitute Shinji Okazaki came close to breaking the deadlock, only for Gabriel to block his shot as he raced into the Arsenal area.
With 10 minutes to go, Yohan Benaloune was fortunate to avoid instant dismissal when he climbed onto the back of Giroud using his studs. Referee Mike Jones contented himself with a yellow card.
The match finally came alive five minutes from time when Monreal seized on Mesut Ozil’s pass to fire in a shot that found the net off the unfortunate Huth.