Sunday, 14 February 2016

Arsenal v Leicester City Preview

Arsenal play Leicester City later today in what is probably the biggest Premier League game so far of the season for both clubs. Leicester had their previous biggest game of the season away to City last week and they came through it with flying colours and a crucial 3-1 victory. They have been the outstanding team in the league this season and are finally the favourites to win the title.

I can remember when more or less the same Leicester team came to Arsenal last season at the foot of the table in desperate need of points in their attempt to stay up. They played really well that night and Arsenal were more than lucky to emerge with a 2-1 win. It came as no surprise to see them put together a great run to avoid the drop, but what they have done this season has been nothing short of incredible.

The Premier League has been almost impossible to predict this season, but Leicester have been the one team to show the consistency required and they deserve to be currently at the top of the table. I thought they were playing a more attacking style earlier in the season and it took a long time for them to get their first clean sheet, but they have tightened up at the back since the mid point. They were very good on the counter attack earlier in the season, but now that their defence has stepped up they have become a lot more dependent on those counter attacks. With players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy they can take any team apart on the break and the continued fitness of those two is crucial to their chances.

They have only lost two league games this season and the only team to take them apart was Arsenal when we went up there and beat them 5-2 in late September. Leicester took the lead that day, but Arsenal stormed back with Alexis Sanchez scoring a hat trick. There were plenty of other chances in that game and it could have ended up with either team scoring at least two or three more.

I don't imagine Leicester will be anywhere near as open today and they will be quite happy with a dull 0-0 draw. It's up to Arsenal to make the play and open Leicester up while making sure they're not too open at the back. Arsenal eventually managed a win and a couple of goals last week after three scoreless league games and four without a win.

This Arsenal team is capable of an awful lot when they're at their best though, but we haven't seen it often enough this season. The first 20 minutes in the 3-0 win at home to United was incredible to watch and the wins at home to Bayern Munich and City were very good too as well as the 3-0 win away to Olympiacos when the chips were really down.

We need to see more of those performances and more often now that we've reached the business end of the season. I have no doubt that Arsenal will beat Leicester if they come out of the blocks raring to go and on the front foot from the first minute. Leicester took advantage of a sluggish City team to score early in both halves last week and Arsenal have to be switched on from the first kick in each half.

Even if Arsenal win the best they can do is go second with City and Spurs playing later in the day, but a win would cut Leicester's lead to two points. From here on in Leicester have only the league to worry about while Arsenal are still in the FA Cup with Hull up next week and Barcelona to follow that in the Champions League. There are some real tough games to come in the league too after today's game with trips to United, Spurs and City still to come.

At least Arsene Wenger has a few more players to pick from and even more look like returning from injury very soon. The full squad could have to be utilised as the games pile up and players start to feel the strain. The more options he has the more pressure it will put on those who aren't performing to their best too and that has to be a good thing for the team.

He has a few decisions to make for today and I hope he opts to keep Gabriel Paulista in the team ahead of Per Mertesacker. Gabriel hasn't been great since taking over from the suspended Mertesacker a few weeks ago, but his pace has to be the deciding factor in his favour considering the threat of Vardy on the break. I don't want to even try to imagine the thought of Vardy getting the chance to run in behind Mertesacker as Laurent Koscielny pushes up to try to play offside and there is no pressure on the ball. It's something we have seen too often as the boss has to be aware of Mertesacker's limitations in this game.

In midfield I still can't understand how Mathieu Flamini is keeping Francis Coquelin out of the team. I know he's only a few weeks back from injury, but he is the best defensive midfielder we have and surely he has to play. I don't know how well he will gel with Aaron Ramsey in the center of midfield, but it has to be better than how Flamini and Ramsey play together.

The only other thing the boss has to consider is who plays on the right side of the attacking trio. It's a very close call between Joel Campbell, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and that decision could be a crucial one for today. Despite his current poor form I would still opt for Walcott because I think he offers the better goal threat and Arsenal are still struggling to score goals.

I have no doubt Arsenal can take the three points and go on to win the league, but they will have to improve an awful lot on how they are currently playing to do so. The players did just enough to win at Bournemouth last week and the time has come for them to give their all and show they want it as much as us fans. If Arsenal lose today I can't see them winning the league and they quite simply have to show the effort and commitment needed to win and keep our hopes alive.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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