Match Preview – Arsenal visit Leicester Looking For Illusive Momentum
Arsenal return home from Greece and head directly back into the Premier League cauldron with a trip to the King Power Stadium against top four usurper Leicester City.
The Gunners’ campaign needs a kick start if they have any hope of qualifying for a European space that’s not the new-low level tournament UEFA is rolling out. (Europe for you, money for us.) The season so far has been a series of fits and starts as Arteta’s charges have not found a consistent groove to get above mid-table mediocrity.
The team as you look at it isn’t as poor as the early season run portrayed nor is it as good as the FA Cup win would imply. What this team is, however, is incomplete. It’s the start of something. Hopefully something that resembles a competitive team some time in the near future but, right now, it is still very much a team trying to find its identity.
Unfortunately for Arsenal they are presented with a challenging tie this week in Leicester City, who have lofty European ambitions of their own.
When last they met
At the Emirates last time, it was a match emblematic of the issues facing Arsenal through their poor run. A lack of creative impetus and not taking chances turned into a loss at home on the back of an inevitable late Jamie Vardy goal.
During their poor run of the season, Arsenal were unable to maintain any level of consistency from match to match and from half to half. In the first half of their meeting in October, Arsenal looked sure to get something as they successfully pressed Leicester into mistakes. They got the ball deep into Leicester’s final third due to a well-executed strategy of using the width created by their wing backs to make attacking moves into the box.
However, in the second half of the match, the pressing stopped and it contributed to the eventual Vardy winner. Without an effective press against the Leicester centre backs, and a continued counter press in the midfield, the visitors were able to resort to their normal tactic of direct play up to the forwards (namely Vardy) as quickly as possible. One such moment was when Tielemans received the ball on the half turn in the midfield without any pressure and found the space behind Arsenal’s defence which was exploited by Ünder who was able to put a ball into Vardy that the forward naturally put away.
Arsenal were also masters of their own demise (as they usually were in that run of poor games) due to the misfiring of Alexandre Lacazette. Arsenal’s leading goalscorer at the time simply went missing. Of his total 55 actions in the match, Lacazette was only successful in 20%. Specifically, of his 23 1 v 1 offensive duels Lacazette was successful in 39% and he lost the ball on 14 occasions. He had three touches in the Leicester penalty box and both of his two shots were off target. Out of both teams, Lacazette attempted the fewest passes (13 completing 11). He was Arsenal’s second biggest contributor in their total 1.58 expected goals, with 0.43 behind Saka’s 0.58, but his finishing totally abandoned him and when it didn’t it was disallowed (wrongfully we might add).
All in all, it was match consistent with the Gunners’ form at the time and in the end the result seemed inevitable.
Learning Some Lessons
Both teams head into Sunday coming off an appearance in the round of 32 of the Europa League. The Gunners narrowly escaped getting knocked out to book their trip into the next round but the Foxes were thoroughly beaten and now must focus on their league campaign.
Leicester’s opponent and some lessons from the reverse fixture can provide a blueprint for how the Arsenal should attack their hosts on Sunday.
In the last tie, the result hung on the lack of pressing consistently throughout the game. Arsenal have shown a significant growth in how they press, they just need to be able to approach the entire 90 minutes with the same level of focus as they do from the start.
Leicester are a side overly reliant on Vardy’s getting the ball from his off the shoulder movement. He is always looking to exploit the space in behind and get the ball from either the midfield or from long direct play by the centre backs. While Leicester rely on movement through their flanks by overloading one side, they now also have the midfield presence to make that type of play more effective rather than coming solely from the defence.
It’s going to be important for Arsenal’s pressing not let up on the likes of Tielemans and Cengiz Ünder. Ünder, even though he can be found to take up good spaces in the midfield, doesn’t seem to be consistent with his delivery of the ball into the area. Denying him time to stop and take on his man in 1 v 1 situations breaks up the flow of his game. Additionally, as demonstrated in the last game, if you aren’t pinching off the space around Tielemans, he will find a pass that will hurt you.
One thing Arteta shouldn’t abandon is the diagonal balls from deep and in the midfield to switch the play. It was something that was effective in the first half of the last match. Since Leicester like to overload one side of the wide spaces, it leaves room for the full/wing backs to receive a ball out wide to attack.
Because Leicester are so fond of overloads, they’re also susceptible to late midfield runs towards the back post. In last night’s match versus Slavia, their first goal came from counter towards the back post. And if you watched that match, you will have noticed it was a tactic the Czech’s exploited consistently.
Lineup wise, Arteta might want to be build and work on being solely a counter-attacking side here. First he might want to make sure he works on a flat defensive shape with man marking. Looking to win the ball and quickly transitioning into the counter to take advantage of the space the foxes will leave behind is important. Playing this way may require some substantial lineup changes and it could mean dropping BOTH Ødegaard and Smith-Rowe. A 4-2-3-1 with an attacking four of Auba, Saka, Pepe and Lacazette up front is as solid a counter attacking side you could want.
The only problem I could see with this is the link up play from the midfield (presumably Partey and Xhaka) to the midfield. That being said if the tactic is get the ball wide into the vacated space, having a traditional 10 in the midfield may be a waste of time.
Overall, it’s a match that presents both opportunities and problems for Arteta and his players to solve. How it plays out is anyone’s guess.
Leicester 1 – 1 Arsenal
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
“They have built a way of playing which is completely suited to their recruitment policy, and with a bit of time, the quality that they had already in the team – plus some young talents that have recruited and experienced players they already have – they have a really good mixture.”
Arsenal Record vs Opponent (League Only)
29P 16W 5L 8D
Average Goals For
Arsenal 1.25 (away)
Leicester 1.58 (home)
Average Goals Conceded
Arsenal 1.00 (away)
Leicester 1.33 (home)
Average xG (all competitions)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Dan Cook, Harry Lennard
Fourth official: Michael Oliver
VAR: David Coote
Assistant VAR: Nick Hopton.
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal have lost three of their last four Premier League matches.
- They have failed to score in 10 league matches this season. Only once previously, in 2005-06, have they failed to score more often in a 38-match campaign.
- The Gunners have conceded just five goals from set-pieces, including penalties, in this season’s Premier League.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 38 goals in 50 Premier League games played on Sundays, 14 more than he has on all other days of the week combined (24 goals in 56 matches).
- Only one of Aubameyang’s last 18 Premier League goals was scored outside of London, a penalty in a 1-0 win at Manchester United in November.
- Bukayo Saka, who is 19 years old, can become the second-youngest player to reach 50 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, after Cesc Fabregas.
- Leicester have won three of the past four league meetings, including a 1-0 victory at the Emirates last October.
- The Foxes could do the league double over Arsenal for the first time since 1973-74.
- Arsenal have lost their last three Premier League away matches against Leicester, getting more red cards (two) than goals (one).