Arsenal vs Leicester: Is this Foxes side better than the one that won the league in 2016?
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
The fixture Arsenal vs Leicester brings back some joyous recent memories. The 2015/16 encounter ended 2-1 with a brilliant Danny Welbeck header which took the roof off the Emirates stadium with the last kick of the game. In 2017/18, Arsenal took on a Leicester side managed by Craig Shakespeare, which finished 4-3 to the Gunners following a debut goal by Alex Lacazette and a winner in the dying embers scored by Olivier Giroud. And finally, last campaign, Unai Emery’s side beat the Foxes 3-1 in arguably the best offensive performance Arsenal produced with Emery at the helm. Mesut Özil absolutely ran the show. The common denominator in these games? Leicester always gave Arsenal a good run for their money. They’re not the sort of side who come to the Emirates prepared to roll over and accept defeat. I doubt that it is going to be any different when Leicester travel to North London tomorrow night. This Leicester side is as good a side the Foxes’ fans have seen since their promotion to the Premier League. Yes, the Premier League-winning team had some extremely talented players and Claudio Ranieri’s men performed particularly admirably that season. But still, within that cohort, there were some players who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a title-winning side and the fact they gained the title that year was nothing short of miracle. They were also helped by the lack of quality within the squads of the usual contenders. If Leicester had the squad which they have now in 2016, they wouldn’t have just been title-winners, they would’ve been runaway title-winners. Most people would have expected Jamie Vardy to have slowed down by now, but he is as good as ever. Behind him, few Premier League teams can boast a better midfield than Wilfried Ndidi, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison.
Meanwhile, in front of Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Çağlar Söyüncü next to the reliable Jonny Evans has been a formidable partnership. Thus, Harry Maguire hasn’t really been missed at the King Power. Alongside those two, Leicester’s full-back pairing of Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira is also very strong. The man in charge of these high-quality footballers is also a high-quality manager. Brendan Rodgers, who many wanted to see leave Leicester to join Arsenal after Unai Emery got the sack, has transformed Leicester City. He’s getting the most out of the tools he has available to him and consequently Leicester find themselves in 3rd place in the Premier League. The former Celtic and Liverpool boss is doing a remarkable job with the Midlands side. Since Rodgers took over at Leicester, he has favoured a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 system. Very similar to the formation Pep Guardiola uses at Manchester City. Fortunately, James Maddison is likely to be unfit for tomorrow’s game so the mezzala-anchor-mezzala midfield may not work to optimum effect but it’s definitely something to be wary of. If it is deployed correctly, Guardiola has shown throughout his managerial career that it is one of the most productive set-ups in the game. Usually, such a formation results in an opposing 2-man midfield getting overran. So, it’ll be interesting to see if Mikel Arteta sticks with a 3-4-3 system tomorrow. If he does carry on with it, then it’s important that his players act as the protagonists. If Arsenal allow Leicester to get a foothold in the game, the likes of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos could have their work cut out.
That being said, given the Gunners’ recent strong form, I’d expect Arsenal to stick with 3 at the back and attempt to play on the front foot. It’s probable that his side will remain unchanged after Saturday’s brilliant result, other than Nico Pépé returning to the starting XI at right-forward. One would hope that he will replace Sead Kolasinac, meaning Kieran Tierney will drop into the back three and Saka will be operating as a wing-back. However, it’d be unsurprising to see a like-for-like swap between Pépé and Saka. A fifth win on the bounce would breed even more confidence into the currently optimistic Arsenal faithful and I envisage Arteta’s men delivering exactly that. Other than during a comprehensive victory over Palace on Saturday, Leicester haven’t looked themselves since the restart and Arsenal’s momentum should carry them over the line in this one. COYG. Line-up Prediction: Martinez, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Cedric, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pépé, Nketiah, Aubameyang. Score Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Leicester