Stalemate keeps Leicester and Arsenal grounded
Premier League champions Leicester City and last season’s runners-up Arsenal remain without a win this season after a slow-burning 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Beaten 2-1 at promoted Hull City last weekend, Leicester avoided the ignominy of becoming the first English champions to lose their first two games since Aston Villa in 1981.
But Claudio Ranieri’s side were frustrated by two unsuccessful penalty shouts — one in each half — and also lost full debutant Nampalys Mendy to an apparent ankle injury.
Arsenal looked far more robust than the team beaten 4-3 by Liverpool a week ago and were able to welcome back Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud from their post-Euro 2016 breaks.
But with the season only two games old, both Arsene Wenger’s men and Leicester are already five points off the pace set by Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Hull.
Ranieri had given starts to Demarai Gray and new signings Luis Hernandez and Ahmed Musa at Hull, but he reverted to last season’s formula for the visit of Arsenal, three months on from his side’s title coronation.
Robert Huth returned from suspension in place of Hernandez, along with Marc Albrighton and Shinji Okazaki, and Mendy stepped into the midfield hole created by N’Golo Kante’s move to Chelsea.
With Arsenal dominating possession on a blustery East Midlands afternoon, it also allowed Leicester to adopt the counter-attacking formula that saw them storm the table in the first half of last season.
Arsenal were reduced to potshots, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in for the injured Alex Iwobi, curling wide and Santi Cazorla, who replaced the hamstrung Aaron Ramsey, shooting straight at Kasper Schmeichel.
The first moment of contention in the Arsenal box occurred late in the half, after Petr Cech had saved at the feet of Jamie Vardy.
– Musa penalty appeal –
Danny Drinkwater, following up, tumbled over Koscielny’s outstretched leg, but referee Mark Clattenburg played on and despite the home fans’ boos, television replays vindicated his call.
Leicester suffered a setback early in the second half when Mendy had to go off after seeming to injure his right ankle, with Andy King taking his place.
But the hosts began to show greater enterprise in attack, Riyad Mahrez drawing an untidy foul from Francis Coquelin and then whipping a shot narrowly over the bar from the free-kick that followed.
With the game becoming scrappy, Ranieri introduced Leonardo Ulloa to the mix and with 20 minutes to play Vardy spurned a gilt-edged chance to break the deadlock.
Albrighton caught Granit Xhaka dawdling and sent the ball skidding into Vardy’s path, but with Koscielny sliding in to close him down, the England man skewed his shot wide.
Wenger sent on Jack Wilshere, Ozil and Giroud from the bench and the visitors began to make inroads.
Theo Walcott threatened twice, forcing a save from Schmeichel and a fine, stretching block from Wes Morgan, while Alexis Sanchez teed up Ozil for an effort that drew Schmeichel racing from his line to block.
But Leicester saw a strong penalty appeal turned away late on when Hector Bellerin appeared to trip substitute Musa in a tangle of legs just inside the box, only for Clattenburg to shake his head once more.
There was time for one last scare in the Arsenal box as Mahrez left Koscielny on the deck before taking aim, but Cech parried to extend his side’s unbeaten run against Leicester to 22 games.