As Arsenal prepare to take on Leicester City at the Emirates, it’s hard not to comment on what an important match this could turn out to be. It’s easy to feel like every match is an important one, especially when the league is built on a table format where every match —early or late— is worth the same 3 points. As Arteta himself said, at the end of the season, the table doesn’t lie. However, in Arsenal’s quest to reclaim a spot in the Premier League’s top 4, a match at home against Leicester could prove to be 3 difference making points.
Last season, Leicester finished in 5th place, 4 points off the mark, so it’s not hard to imagine they are one of this year’s top competition for Arsenal. Both Arsenal are Leicester know what Champions League play and money could do for their prospective future. Arsenal are a side in the midst of a major overhaul and looking for financial security and funds to back their young star manager. Leicester, a relatively new-side to the Premier League’s rank of top sides looking to establish themselves as a routine competitor for top honors.
Both sides will have seen Manchester City drop points to West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester United draw, and smell a bit of blood in the water surrounding Liverpool’s defense in the wake of Virgil’s likely season ending injury.With Arsenal and Leicester both on 9 points, they will be looking to capture all 3 points and climb level with the top 4.
Arsenal have had the edge in the last 13 matches against Leicester City going 7-3-3, including a 2-0 September win to advance in the Carabao Cup. Both sides played relatively rotated sides with a few key starters, but Arsenal came out victorious after a Fuchs own goal and Nketiah goal in the 90th minute to close the match for good.
Much like Arsenal’s match against Liverpool earlier this season after winning the Community Shield, a different atmosphere can be expected when 3 major Premier League points are on the line. More energy, more drive, and more complete lineups.
While the sides will be more complete, both teams will be waiting until the last moment to make finals decisions on a few key players. Leicester City will be hoping that their star striker Jamie Vardy is good enough to go after suffering an adductor injury. Defender Soynucu, a stable of the Foxes’ defense will be out for up to 3 months after suffering an injury during international duty with Turkey.
When it comes to Arsenal, there is quite a bit of news to keep an eye on:
Left ankle. Slight ankle bruising, now back in full training and available for selection.
Right calf. Slight calf issue, being assessed ahead of Sunday.
Right hamstring. Sustained hamstring strain during the warm-up at Manchester City last Saturday.
Rob is likely to be out of action for approximately three weeks.
Additionally, Mustafi was back from injury and available before Arsenal’s midweek Europa League bout with Austria’s Rapid Vienna. He too will be looking for this first start of the season, in an attempt to reclaim his regular position within Arsenal’s backline.
When it comes to Arsenal’s lineup, it’s an interesting dilemma. There’s the side that would align in feel with what Arteta has historically selected for matches like this, and there is the type of lineup fans want to see Arsenal selecting and playing within.
What I think we may see:
This would be Arteta’s 3-4-3 formation, with Aubameyang back on the left and a health Willian on the right. Sorry Pepe, it just isn’t consistently sticking. I would consider Elneny and Ceballos interchangeable, but I gave the nod to Elneny after he played the ball to Bellerin that led to Arsenal’s game winner, and he and Partey gained a bit of chemistry in the Rapid Vienna game.
Saka has made a real statement of late that he is a player that can hardly be dropped, and Luiz would be coming in for Rob Holding after his hamstring injury.
I can’t say I would be over the moon with this side when I want to see Arsenal move toward that more inherently attacking shape with an extra midfielder and move away from the formation with an extra defender. I also believe that Leicester is a quality side, but one that will present a team with opportunities to inflict their will if Arsenal are willing to rise to the occasion and go for it.
What I would like to see:
This side is much more in line with one that I would like to see and one that I believe could offer plenty of options for fluid exchange, especially in the midfield. While I have Partey anchoring a more flat 3, I do believe ther could be a lot of opportunity for Xhaka to drop deeper allowing Saka to tuck in, Tierney to get down the line and Partey and Ceballos to be the two that choose to get more forward in a box to box role.
I did leave Willian on the right over Pepe. Again, sorry Pepe, but I still think Arteta is looking to get Willian involved in every match he is healthy for and fit.
I struggle to see Arteta go away from the 3-4-3 for a true 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 when it comes to a match like this, but a guy can hope. Whichever side he selects, I think Arsenal need to make a conscious effort to press and look for opportunities to get numbers in to the attack. They are back at The Emirates, back in a comfortable home, and it is a major game.
The score itself is going to be hard to predict, but I do know Leicester will find a way to create chances. I’m not saying the game will become a track meet or an end-to-end affair, but Arsenal will need to create more than they have in the recent past. The team that creates the most chances wins, in my opinion, which means Arsenal’s gameplan of creating simply a few good opportunities won’t be enough to get the job done. They need to get on the ball, they need to keep it, but they need to find ways to work shots with the ball at their feet.