Playing Leicester brings up some ‘What If?’ moments for me. What if 2015/16 had ended differently. What if Brendan Rodgers had been appointed as Arsene Wenger’s successor. What if Jamie Vardy had opted to move to us.
Maybe it’s natural to feel this way about a club that ends up replacing yours among the top clubs in the league. Or at least, is growing to become regular rivals.
A glance at the league table reveals that the erstwhile underdogs are now 15 points and 8 places ahead of the top guns. Jamie Vardy could join/surpass Wayne Rooney as the PL’s top scorer against Arsenal if he finds the goal against us again. He already has 11 in 12 games against us, and Leicester themselves have won 4 of the last 6 against us. We’ve also lost 3 straight games at Leicester City.
However, the midweek European expeditions flipped the script somewhat. An Auba brace, including a last minute winner had the Arsenal going through to the next round, while Leicester were upset by Slavia Prague.
It may not be via the premier league, but Arsenal are keeping alive the dream of returning to the Champions League. We keep hoping this team will find its spark on the basis of one win or the other, and invariably we fizzle out. As we carry our guns to the fox’s burrow though, we must hope that this time won’t be another damp squib.
Arsenal is in much better health
Our cause is helped somewhat by a clean bill of health. Even Partey and Chambers made recent appearances and no fresh injuries are reported, so we should be ok. Even here Leicester are struggling as they’re missing James Maddison, Ayoze Perez, Wesley Fofana, Dennis Praet and Wes Morgan. That’s quite an array of talent to be missing and maybe this is a good time to play them. We can carry the momentum of midweek into this game, and hope to take advantage of any doubts they may be feeling after their shock defeat.
For me, this would mean keeping possession and passing at a faster tempo than we tend to do. It also means pressing Leicester and not letting them settle. Thomas Partey, if he is fully fit, could really help us in both these aspects. Arsenal ought to also start finding some space in the centre with Odegaard/ESR playing through balls to the forwards. Defensively, we just need to be sure to watch for the ball over the top to Jamie Vardy. Leicester would be happy to give up possession if it meant having spaces to exploit behind us. Another player to watch out for is Harvey Barnes. He’s likely to be the main creative threat in Maddison’s absence.
It would be a mistake to simply look to contain Leicester. The Foxes could play possum for most of the game but strike at any moment. Also, watch out for them falling over to win penalty calls. My preferred approach would be to go in all guns blazing, and blow away the opposition. But Leicester still have capable players, and as such should count as favorites.
Arteta isn’t likely to eschew his conservative approach against opponents like this, injuries or not. However, he must want to get the better of Rodgers tactically. We can only hope he manages to outfox him.
Written by Shard aka @ShardGooner