Crunch day. The title race may either be ignited or extinguished this Valentines Day Sunday. Arsenal ‘welcome’ leaders Leicester City to the Emirates this Sunday at noon, for what has shaped up to be more or less a title decider. If Leicester win, they could potentially be 9 points clear of second place with only 11 weeks to go, who would of thought?
Arsenal and Leicester have already met before this season, at the King Power, which Arsenal romped to victory by 5 goals to Leicester’s 2. An astounding victory considering how the table looks today. The ironic thing about the 5-2 demolition is, Arsenal effectively played in the same manner that Leicester has been using to deteriorate defences up and down the country. The counter attack this season has been Leicester’s greatest asset, and with such pace and attacking abundance it would be rude not to adopt this style either.
Not many teams have been able to counteract it, with Liverpool and Arsenal being the only 2 to overwhelm the Foxes this season. Of course, any team can play counter attacking football, but it won’t necessarily put them in the position that Ranieri has his side. The special thing about Leicester, is not only their attacking workaholics, chasing down every single long and loose ball and constantly being a sharp thorn to the side of loitering defenders, their ever so proficient midfield, or their mean and certainly not lean machines in defence, but their balance is what separates them from the rest.
No side, bar maybe Spurs, have I seen this season with such consistency and excitement. Leicester win games, and they win them well, fully deserving victories. The fact that the football universe has been so naive to believe that Leicester City could not win the league this year, makes this story so much better. The media and fans have been quick to predict their downfall, which has yet to come, and right now looks far from near, as generally speaking there’s more chance of getting a swimming lesson in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Leicester boast qualities in all areas of the pitch, but they do have one weakness, which has already been exploited by Wenger. The counter attack. The biggest crime the Foxes have committed is their lack of speed in the centre of defence, and maybe this is the game to revitalise Theo Walcott and awaken him from his deep sleep.
Arsenal, being at home, are expected to control the game, something which not many sides can do versus Leicester. Just one week ago we saw the Foxes tear up the Etihad and counteract Manchester City’s game plan with the counter attack. If Arsenal go out to control this game, it will end badly and so it should if Wenger chooses to adopt this strategy. The counter attacks main weakness is the counter attack. Deploy it well Wenger.
Arsenal will be heavily reliant on their number 11, Mesut Özil, as he will need to pull more strings than an on tour Jimi Hendrix in order to defeat the leaders. We have yet to see the ‘return’ of Alexis Sanchez since his first game back from injury, as he is yet to find the back of the net in the league. The Chilean however, has a good goal scoring record versus Leicester in his short time here in London, with 4 goals in his last 3.
Francis Coquelin is expected to start the game, as he has been rested the previous 2, alongside Ramsey fans would assume. It will be interesting to see which game plan Arsene Wenger deploys, whether that be to control or counter, either will predictably result in Walcott or Giroud starting as striker. Koscielny and Gabriel will more than likely patrol the heart of defence.
The strange thing about this tie is the fact that the vast majority of pressure lies on Arsenal’s shoulders, despite Leicester being 5 points ahead of the pack. Ranieri also believes his players will not be effected by the occasion.
“The pressure’s on the others. Tell me why we have pressure? Why must I feel pressure? We must continue our dream with our fans.”
“It’s a crazy premier league. If it was a normal league there would be a big gap but we will fight to maintain our position. This time I hope the bookmakers are right.”
Leicester are without both Matty James and Jeffrey Schlupp, two rotational players that probably would not play much of a part in this fierce battle.
“We will try of course to stop their counter attacking. But at home you have to express your strengths and our strength is to have the ball. We have to try to express our strengths as well as try stop them from hitting us on the break.”
“Look at the number of direct balls from their half to the opponents half. They are higher than anyone else because they have Vardy on his way straight away when they win the ball – they do it very well. They suck you in and go very quickly in the opponents half. Today they are a bit more ‘let’s sit here and use our strengths’ in a very efficient way, which is what they did against Manchester City.”
“I think the biggest pressure in our job is to play games without pressure. This is the kind of game we want – the kind of game we relish. When you play at Arsenal Football Club, that’s what you want.”
- Alexis Sanchez has 4 goals in his last 3 games against Leicester
- Theo Walcott has scored in both appearances v Leicester.
- Arsenal are undefeated in their last 18 games versus the Foxes.
- The Gunners have scored a league low 32.1% of clear cut chances in the league.
- Arsenal have only once won when facing r team top of the premier league.
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