12 February 2016

Putting Leicester on lock-down: how can Arsenal fetter these fleet Foxes?

When the fixture-list first came out to start the season, we all looked ahead to this late-season match, one that could very well decide the winner of the Prem. Coming so late in the season, and between two such presumptive favorites, this clash shone like a beacon over all preceding weeks as well as the precious few that would follow: City. The boys in blue. The Foxes. Those—hold the phone. If anyone had suggested that it would Leicester to whom we would refer as City, and it would be this matchday and not #37 that might decide who wins the Prem, they'd've been carted off. And yet here we are.

Leicester, five points clear, have only Prem matches to worry about. A win or draw on Sunday would give them a massive advantage for the run-in. Their chief rivals—Arsenal, Tottenham (excuse me as I just vomited ever so slightly), and Man City—all have various extracurriculars to dilute and distract if not damage. Worse, Ranieiri's boys seem to have finally wedded some actual defense to that fearsome attack, emerging in recent weeks as one of the best counterattacking sides in Europe. Had Agüero not scored that face-saving goal in the waning minutes last week, we'd be talking about a City side (Leicester, that is; Man City forfeit the moniker) that had kept three consecutive clean sheets.

Set aside any references to the 2-5 thrashing. That was ages ago. This City side doesn't simply hunker down and pack the box with defenders; it seems more like they're rearing back in order to strike. Other sides, such as Stoke or West Brom, will essentially set up two static banks of four and then hoof it out. The Foxes drop down deep, it's true, but they press and try to win the ball in order to unleash in lightning-fast fashion. Midfielders like Kante and Drinkwater will try to play passing lanes and tackle dribblers in order to release passes to the feet of Mahrez or Vardy in order to exploit high lines tempted forward by the siren-song of possession.

In order to stop this from eviscerating us as it did Man City, our wide defenders will need to be disciplined, being wary of getting too far forward and willing to go on lung-busting runs to get back. Between them, a centre-back pairing of Koscielny and Gabriel may be necessary as Mertesacker's positioning is not enough to slow the onslaught. Ahead of them will have to be Ramsey and Coquelin, with the Welshman under firm instruction not to get too far forward. He's shown a disciplined streak of late. With the two of them shielding the back four, our attack should be able to find chances aplenty even if Leicester have improved massively in defense. They concede plenty of shots, and plenty of high-quality shots in and around their area. Arsenal create plenty of the same. That's a potentially explosive combination. Assuming that these two trends hold, all Arsenal need do is improve our finishing ever so slightly, and we'll finish off these Foxes.

LAST 3
Leicester 2-5 Arsenal (29.09.2015)
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (10.02.2015)
Leicester 1-1 Arsenal (31.08.2014)

FACTFILE
Leicester are undefeated in 15 of their last 16 away-matches in the Prem.
The two clubs first met in August 1894, a 3-1 win to Leicester.
Arsenal have won their last five home matches against Leicester.

INJURIES
Wilshere, Cazorla, Welbeck, and Rosický have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Gabriel, Koscielny, Bellerín; Ramsey, Coquelin; Alexis, Özil, Campbell, Giroud.

This one could be a barn-burner similar to our last clash, or it could be a turgid affair. Either way, expect Arsenal to emerge with all three.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester.