25 April 2017

Shakespearean tragedy: can Arsène out-fox foes to finish top-four?

Let's face facts: defeating Man City this weekend does little if anything to change our fortunes in the Prem. That said, there has to be some kind of boost in confidence and determination from having won. For those inclined to wonder about these things, Arsenal have now defeated Guardiola at Camp Nou, Allianz Arena, and Wembley, surely, the only club to stake that claim. However, if there's no carry-over to the Emirates, well, we're whistlin' past the graveyard. Enter Leicester. After a brief resugence under new skipper Craig Shakespeare, the Foxes have risen from the relegation-fray for now. Their Champions League adventure came to a cruelly close ending. Waste no time lamenting their losses, though; we simply must take maximum points from here on out.

If our win over City proved anything, it's that this novel 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formation can work, given a few tweaks. Playing three center-backs against Boro and City meant we were without pace in the backline, something that can and should be remedied by deploying Bellerín as a wide midfielder. After all, this represents only a minor tweak from the customary 4-2-3-1 and suggests a compromise  in which the wide midfielders are more defensively-minded, getting forward to join the attack rather than being central components of that attack. Then, instead of a deep-lying defensive midfielder or two, we can send on some combination of Xhaka, Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who are eager to get forward as components of the attack.

Ahead of all of this, pairing Alexis and Özil behind Giroud should create chances. Giroud's physicality will come in handy against the brutes that are Morgan and Huth. Alexis in particular seems to enjoy playing against Leicester: he's the first Chilean to get a hat-trick against them (in the 5-2 win last season), and he's the fourth Gunner to do so (joining Bergkamp, Henry, and Anelka). Bad news for Leicester: Alexis, having endured a bit of a dry-spell across three matches, has now scored in back-to-back matches. He looks hungry.

As for Leicester, one has to wonder whether the hangover has set in. Under Shakespeare, they went on a nifty six-match win-streak, overcoming Sevilla and Liverpool along the way, but they've since stumbled, failing to win in their last four, getting dumped from the Champions League by Atlético Madrid (no shame in that). The dream, however, is well and over, and it's anyone's guess as to how they'll approach the rest of the season. They'll have had eight days to process that Champions League disappointment; they'll also know that they're all but free from relegation. They're currently six points clear with two games in hand over Hull, Swansea, and Boro.

Much as I hate to engage in such dismal science as this, we know that we have to win out to have any chance of a top-four finish. As it currently stands, we could catch Liverpool, currently nine points above us, thanks to our three games in hand over them. We can overtake Everton's one-point lead courtesy of those same three games in hand. However, this only sees us climb to fifth, which is only good enough for a Europa League spot. If we're to climb into the top four, we'll need Man U or Man City to drop points.

Man City host Man U on Thursday; we'll have to see how that turns out. Before that result can mean anything, however, we simply have to win on Wednesday. We have to keep the pressure on them and on Liverpool. We've shown that we can batter Leicester even when they're at their best; we won across both legs by a combined 7-3 scoreline. This, even more than Sunday's FA Cup semifinal, is a must-win for Arsenal.

LAST THREE:
Leicester 0-0 Arsenal (20.08.2016)
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (14.02.2016)
Leicester 2-5 Arsenal (26.09.2015)

FACTFILE:
Arsenal have won 63 of 136 matches against Leicester.
The two sides first clashed in 1895, a 3-1 win to Leicester.
Arsenal have scored at least one goal in seven of their last eight matches agaisnt Leicester.

INJURIES:
Cazorla, Lucas, Ospina, and Reine-Adelaide have all been ruled out. Mustafi and Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness-tests.

PREDICTED STARTING XI (3-4-2-1):
Čech; Holding, Koscielny, Gabriel; Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Bellerín; Alexis, Özil, Giroud.

SCORELINE:
Arsenal 3-0 Leicester.

What do you think? Can we build on the momentum seized from defeating Man City, or will it be another case of one step forward, two steps back? Share your thoughts in the comments-section below!