It was a deflating end for Leicester City to lose at Arsenal having defended so well for the best part of ninety minutes. With a trip to the Hawthorns on Saturday, there’s a quick opportunity for the Foxes to make amends and try to get that second away win.
It was perhaps the first wrong decision that Craig Shakespeare has been since taking charge of the Foxes. It was a flat and mostly uninspiring performance from his side, albeit one that had defensive grit and still deserved more than to lose from a fortunate, deflected goal. Yes, the defending was pretty well done otherwise, but it left our forwards either starved of the ball or starved of options when they dropped deep to win it.
His substitutions, which in the past have been timed and made to perfection, didn’t work either. Leonardo Ulloa was swapped out to bring on Shinji Okazaki but it made little impact due to the issues with the service in our limited attacking opportunities. Many expected Demarai Gray to have been given much longer than the couple of minutes he ended up with, he was after all our wildcard option, the one Arsenal would know the least about how to cope with.
While Leicester look to be all but safe from relegation, there’s still a chance to improve on our position and come closer to a mid table finish. Any impressive performances and points on the board would further strengthen Shakespeare’s case for getting the managerial job for next season too, should there still be any doubt from those higher up.
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In truth, while not the final, polished article of a manager yet, he’s impressed since taking over. The turnaround in both performances and results has been nothing short of brilliant, particularly in the Champions League. He’s likely already done enough to merit the job, but a few more wins before the season closes wouldn’t hurt.
His and Leicester’s next opportunity comes in the form of another away game, this time at West Brom. Tony Pulis’ side have frustrated many clubs this season, so it won’t be an easy match, but the Foxes may well have a slice of payback on their minds. It was the Baggies who gave us some worries towards the end of last season, holding us to 2-2 draw. It didn’t cost us, but couple that with our generally poor away form and the players will be keen to steal all three points.
Shakespeare said that his players were dejected to come away from Arsenal empty handed. Like death and taxes, losing away at Arsenal is part and parcel of being a Leicester fan. That said, it’s been a largely miserable league campaign on the road. We only notched our first win last month and with this the penultimate away game, we don’t have many chances left to increase that tally. We’ve struggled to play our own game away from the King Power and to really show ourselves as an attacking force.
It’s not just the manager who’ll want to continue to make an impression. There’s no doubt that the Foxes will be active in the summer transfer window, so for some players, it’s their chance to either stake a claim for staying, or for why they don’t need to be replaced.
Yohan Benalouane is the player who’s made the biggest claim. It felt for a long time that we’d never see him play, between injury issues and his aggression levels. There was an element of fortune in how he got his breakthrough, a combination of Wes Morgan getting injured and our lack of defensive cover, thrust him into the starting eleven. It’s an opportunity he’s taken with open arms and great enthusiasm. One less than impressive match aside, he’s looked very capable alongside Robert Huth, and Morgan when needed. We certainly still need to strengthen, but perhaps we can look at cover rather than entire replacements.
A player with a more uncertain future is Leonardo Ulloa. The Argentinian was an interesting starting choice against Arsenal. He’d earned it with a very dogged and important performance against Atletico Madrid, but it’s still not clear if he’ll want to remain at Leicester. How much of his tantrum in January can be linked back to what Claudio Ranieri or staff told him pre-season will never be known. For now, he’s benefiting from the fact that his like for like, much more expensive colleague, Islam Slimani is injured. Should the Algerian remain at Leicester and get back to full fitness, it leaves Ulloa’s playing time looking somewhat limited once again.
While not a world beater, Ulloa has to be commended on what he’s done and offers for the Foxes. He has a habit of popping up with key goals and important contributions, but it’s understandable that he wants more regular first time action rather than bit piece roles. If he continues to play between now and the end of the season, he may well attract more attention again.
With fifteen points still available, Leicester are still hoping to achieve a top ten finish, one that put a positive end to a strange and mixed season. Getting back to winning ways at West Brom would certainly help with that.