31 August 2014

Leicester: do we want three points or Aston Villa part deux?

So we go into today's match tense and wary, perhaps worried more about signings that may or may not come by Monday's deadline than we are about our opponent. I won't give the Foxes back-handed compliments such as calling them 'plucky' or 'feisty.' They've started the campaign brightly, with a well-earned draw at home with Everton and a closer-than-it-looks 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge to a Chelsea side who look frighteningly capable of going for ten goals in a match after thrashing Everton 6-3 at Goodison Park. In other words, then, sneer at the newly-promoted at your own risk.

While we've done fairly well as far as results are concerned to this point (could another Invincibles season be in the offing? Stay tuned to find out...), we've failed to convince, needing no fewer than four goals in extra time in our last five matches to beat Crystal Palace, draw with Everton, and defeat Beşiktaş. It's not that I think our hopes will come down to the dying moments again, but we're almost certain to see Leicester defend very deep and in numbers, daring us to somehow thread passes through a thicket of eight or nine men in the box. With Giroud and Sanogo unavailable, the idea of tossing in crosses should go out the window, at least as a realistic option. We just don't have enough height to convert crosses.

We'll dominate possession, perhaps holding the ball for close to 65% of the match, but I worry that we'll have much to show for it. A lot of abortive attempts at replicating Wilshere's goal against Norwich will alternately tantalize and frustrate, and we'll face the occasional sphincter-clenching counter-attack, with Ulloa or Nugent collecting a long clearance and either sailing a shot over the crossbar or getting tackled all too close to the 18 for our likings by Debuchy or Kos. During the last campaign, one of our best qualities was in how we minimized dropped points to bottom-of-the-table squads. There's a certain, important ahem waiting there, to which I'll return in a moment. In seasons before that, however, we slipped and stumbled against such squads, even falling to historic, ignominious defeat.

At a risk of invoking certain spectres from the more-recent past, then, there's that ahem. I refer of course to last season's opening day, when we lost so infamously to Aston Villa. That shocker seemed to portend a lost season but it seemed also to open the door for Mesut Özil. On one hand, it's difficult to believe that a transfer of such size and significance could have been arranged in just two weeks. On the other, it's just as difficult to believe that Arsène would have made such a massive move without feeling that something must be done. Don't read between the lines thinking that I want an encore performance. Realizing it's not an either-or proposition in reality, if you did have your pick? Which would you choose: a win that convinces Arsène that we don't need a top-shelf signing, or a loss that convinces him we do need such a signing?