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Match Preview: Arsenal v Leicester City; It’s a Title Tilter

When was the last time a league weekend of such importance featured Arsenal in it? Yeah, I can’t remember either. But think about it, as Arsenal kicks off on Sunday, it will be only the 6th time that all top 4 sides feature against each other. What that means is that it’s either going to finally separate or become very congested at the top when it’s all said and done.

Arsenal got back to their winning ways last week with a 2-0 win over Bournemouth. That came after a run of 4 without a win and 3 without a goal.  It was without a doubt the worst run of games Arsenal had put together this season.

If the team’s fragile title hopes are going to continue and solidify then Sunday’s match versus Leicester City is a must win. I say that with full knowledge that there are 12 matches remaining after this weekend and as Liverpool could tell you – don’t count your eggs until they are in the basket when it comes to the twists and turns of a Premier League season.

Leicester are the media darlings. Stories abound of the “fairy tale” season Claudio Ranieri’s side is enjoying and yes it is a remarkable run. Yet, if when Arsenal were top of the table the story was “it’s the worst league in recent memory” – the same holds true for visitors.

Still, it is a remarkable run they are on, made even more remarkable by the way they took apart City last week.

It is a match that has to rightly worry my fellow Arsenal supporters. Still it is a match that Arsenal can win and while the visitors have improved since the Gunners visited them in September and won 5-2, with Alexis Sanchez and Coquelin back in the squad – the home side have to like their chances.

Theo or Giroud to Start

Theo Walcott hasn’t been in any kind of form to dislodge Olivier Giroud. However, I think this is a match where based on the match up you want to start the speedy center forward. In the two Leicester center backs you have players who aren’t terribly mobile and play too tight to the attacker.

Their style of play allows them turned quite easily. In fact it was just such a style of play that allowed Theo to split the two center backs and score Arsenal’s first goal back at the King Power stadium.  While Giroud is a big physical presence up top he’s a player that plays into the Foxes defending strengths.

The argument for Giroud to start is obvious. Theo since his return from injury hasn’t exactly set the world alight. Yes, most of the time he has been playing as inverted winger from the left rather than the right. Still he hasn’t shown the presence and ability he was showing when he was playing as a center forward early in the season.

Giroud gives Arsenal a presence up top and a target who can bring others into play effectively. And while he isn’t the most speedy fellow his runs within the 18 yard box are smart and effective. Additionally, Giroud’s patented near-post run especially on set pieces can be a weapon due to Leicester having issues defending man to man on set pieces.

In the end it depends on how Wenger wants to play. If he anticipates that LCFC will sit back and cede possession then Giroud likely will start. If he expects it to be an open, back and forth affair you can make a case for Theo. Given how open the last affair was I am going with Theo to start up top.

Where to Worry

It’s easy to look at the threat of Vardy, Mahrez and Okazaki but the real area of worry for me is the two midfielders – Drinkwater and Kante. In playing the counter-attacking style Leicester have been doing you have to have midfielders who can win the ball and make effective passes to start the counter.

Drinkwater and Kante are two effective players at this. Not only do they offer cover for their defenders but they win the ball and immediately look for the smart pass to begin the transition. What they are really effective at is pouncing on their opposition’s poor passes and starting that counter.

What Arsenal need to worry about is the lack of quality passing that has been evident of late – especially as we try and get the ball out of our defensive third. The inaccurate pass or poor decision not to pass will and can invite unneeded pressure and against a team brimming with confidence like Leicester the last thing you want to do is give them easy opportunities to attack. Then you absolutely have to worry about Vardy, Mahrez and Okazaki.

Match Verdict

If I am Arsenal, I am setting up to specifically to address Leicester’s counter strength. Specifically, I am hoping Arsenal look to do the following:

  • Play a deep defensive line: with a good counter attacking team, you just can’t afford to play high defensive line. Sit off of Vardy don’t if you play him tight he will be able to break free with his speed and he will get the chances he wants
  • Deploy a good reader of the game as a defensive midfielder. This means no Flamini. Flamini doesn’t read the game well. Forget the whole pointing thing – Flamini’s repeated propensity to retreat from the player with the ball tells me he doesn’t know exactly when to press and isn’t confident in his ability to win the ball.
  • Don’t look to build from the centre. Especially against LCFC. 1. – their fullbacks like to tuck in clogging up the field but opening the wide channels and 2. Every counter attacking team has two brilliant passers in the middle (Drinkwater and Kante) and they will win the ball in a clogged midfield and hit the diagonal pass to start the counter.
  • No need to press high up. LCFC aren’t going to look to build up from the back. They aren’t a possession-based team (except at home) don’t waste energy chasing them down when they have the ball deep in their own zone.

I can’t call the match. I really believe in our team but I am not blind – we’ve just not been as effective recently as we were in the beginning of the season. But every rut has an end. If it ends for Arsenal on Sunday it wouldn’t surprise me. This isn’t the type of game Arsenal typically overlook so I expect them to be ready to play and as we’ve seen even this season – when Arsenal come to play they can stand toe to toe with the best in England and in Europe.

From the Manager: (Courtesy

It will be an interesting game because I’m convinced both teams have the quality to create openings and goal chances,” Arsène Wenger told Arsenal Player.

“It was welcome to us to rebuild the confidence that we can score goals [against Bournemouth last weekend] because for a while we didn’t, so that is very good. I’m convinced we will go into the game on Sunday with belief and desire and a real team performance.

“I can’t remember [another game as open as the game at Leicester in September]. I said afterwards that they could have scored more and we could have scored more, but since then I think what is remarkable is that they have conceded only 27 goals and we concede 22.

“Both defences have tightened up so it might be completely different on Sunday.

“The history of the Leicester team [this season] is of real confidence and belief and there is the desire to finish at the top. They have more belief than they had in the first game but at Emirates Stadium we play at home and we know we are a strong team.

“I’m confident we can deliver what is needed on Sunday.”

 Players to Watch:

Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez. When the two teams last met, Sanchez hadn’t found his scoring boots. All that changed when he put 3 past Schmeichel. Alexis has slowly been getting back to form since his return from injury. Arsenal need Alexis at his best for this match and Alexis at his best poses a lot of problems for Leicester

Leicester. Jamie Vardy. He may be an ignorant twat but he’s good at what he does. He finds space behind the opposition FBs and attack from outside in. He’s done it all season and he’s quite good at it.

Probable Lineups:

Click to enlarge

Injuries and Suspensions:

Arsenal: Cazorla (knee), Wilshere (leg), Rosicky (thigh)

Leicester: Schlupp (hamstring), James (knee)

Match Officials:

Referees: Martin Atkinson (23M 77Y 0R)
Assistant Referees: M Mullarkey, S Child
Fourth Official: R East

Broadcast Information:

UK: Sky Sports 12.00 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network: 7:00 AM EST

YAMA Prediction:

Arsenal 2 – 1 Leicester

Match Facts: (Courtesy via Opta)

  • Alexis Sanchez has scored four goals in his three Barclays Premier League games against Leicester City.
  • Theo Walcott has scored in both of his Premier League appearances against Leicester City.
  • The Gunners have won 12 and lost none of the last 18 Premier League matches against the Foxes.
  • Arsenal have won their last eight home Premier League meetings with Leicester City.
  • Three of the four players to have had a hand in 20+ goals in the Premier League this season will play in this match – Riyad Mahrez (24), Jamie Vardy (21) and Mesut Ozil (20).
  • Only Barcelona (10) have won more penalties in the top five European Leagues this season than Leicester City (9).
  • Only WBA (21.7%) have played a higher proportion of their passes long than Leicester City (20.9%) in the Premier League this season, while Arsenal have played the lowest proportion long (9.3%).
  • The Gunners have scored a league-low 32.1% of their clear-cut chances in the Premier League in 2015-16.
  • Leicester City have named an unchanged starting XI in their last five Premier League games; the last team to name the same starting XI in six successive PL matches was Arsenal in May 2015.
  • On the last 11 occasions that Arsenal have faced a team that was top of the Premier League, they have won just once (D4 L6) and scored only four goals (conceding 18).




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