So here we are. We’ve arrived at the biggest game of the season for Arsenal and unlike anyone would have predicted, it’s a home match against Leicester. That could very well define our season.
We’ve all been talking about it all week with friends, family, people we know online, people at work, Arsenal fans and non-fans. We’ve discussed options for Arsenal, for Leicester, tactical breakdowns and how both teams will set up.
All that’s left to do is to get on with it.
I still have the fear. Arsène will try to play down any pressure, but as a fan I know that we have it, so the players must be feeling it too. We’ve seen them struggle when presented with pressure at times this season, so I don’t know about you, but I’m praying that they can cope with what will come this lunchtime.
How we will set up still has some vagueries about it. There were rumours emenating from the Twittersphere that Gabriel isn’t fit, that he may have picked up a knock in training, but similar rumours about Giroud being injured came out yesterday so I hope that that’s all it is: rumours. The Brazilian has just managed to put together a string of games and whilst he makes more errors than Big Per does, his recovery pace gets him out of a pickle in a way that our massive German cannot. That’s why I hope he is available today, because Leicester will target longer balls in behind Per if he does play, and we all know the German will not be able to cope with Vardy’s pace. Vardy is quicker than Gabriel, but at least the Brazilian will be able to catch up with him easier if there are any balls in behind today.
I hope Arsenal don’t play a high line. That would fit perfectly to Leicester’s game plan, which will be to sit deeper, soak up pressure and hit us on the counter. They will have a usual back four of Fuchs, Morgan, Huth and Simpson, and I suspect they will use Southampton’s recent shut out as an example of how to contain Arsenal, which means Drinkwater and Kante will be the deep-lying midfielders who sit in front of the back four. Then they’ll look to use the pace of Mahrez and Vardy on the counter and hope that we get dragged too far forward as a team and they have plenty of green grass to run in to.
So for Arsenal, discipline is important today, which is why we’re all praying that Coquelin starts. I think he will. Flamini and Ramsey doesn’t work, leaves too much space in the middle of the park and I can see why some have suggested we sit two holding midfielders and move Ramsey wide right. Nobody in our squad has nailed down that right wing position, so whilst Ramsey would like to be playing centrally, I’m not sure it works in a game like this. But who would partner Coquelin? Elneny hasn’t played much and Flamini’s flaws are there for all to see. So whilst Arsène could throw a curveball by starting either of those players, I think he’ll opt for Ramsey centrally and hope that he can cover more ground defensively like he did against Bournemouth last weekend.
Özil and Alexis are obvious choices in the attacking quartet, but I wonder if The Ox will be given a run out, given his goal last weekend. He still frustrated at times and gave the ball away a little too cheaply in promising positions, but Arsène has spoken of how he feels like The Ox has hit a bit of form, so I suspect he might start. But a bigger question is who plays in that central striking role. Huth and Morgan will find a strapping centre forward like Giroud easier to deal with, so I wonder if Theo getting a run out is in the managers thinking, even if his recent performances don’t really warrant it. Walcott will look to run in behind and it will be players like Alexis and Özil who will need to show him balls that are threaded – eye of a needle stuff – through, so if he plays we need to expect there to be some frustrations to exist because Leicester will sit deep. That means less space to operate and therefore probably more balls that don’t quite come off. So if Walcott starts, we need to be mindful that there might be a bit of exasperation.
We need three points today. More than at any other time of the season because if we don’t get all three you have to wonder how we’re going to win this league. I’m still yet to be convinced we will, but the belief that we will get from a win will be massive, and who knows how it might affect Leicester?
Come on you reds!