Midweek match day. An opportunity to break up the monotony of the working week with a spot of Arsenal and if the footballing gods are with us, hopefully a victory to add the gloss to the weekend semi final win.
It’s a resurrected Leicester City who come to town and despite the fact we haven’t lost to them in the Premier League and have a pretty decent home record, the form suggests they might have a little more confidence than us, having won five of their last seven matches and pretty much ensured they won’t get embroiled in a relegation battle by the time we get to the end of the season.
Leicester are out of all cup competitions and despite the fact they’re only six points from the drop they should be safe by now. One more win will do it for them so I’m expecting them to come at us tonight. They won’t be on their holidays just yet I don’t think.
Their style will be reverted to the counter-attacking that we saw last season and with the pace of Vardy always a threat, I expect them to try and rope-a-dope us tonight, hoping to soak up and then hit us. The positive point from our perspective is they’re missing an attacking threat in Slimani, but I believe both Vardy and Mahrez are fit and so it’ll be through those two that they’ll look to cause us the most damage. Last season it was a Vardy dive – let’s not pretend it was anything else – that got Monreal and Arsenal in to trouble, so I’m hopeful that this evening we’ll see a bit more sense from our players.
There certainly might be more cover. Given the team have adopted three at the back for consecutive games and with the Scum on the horizon, Arsène must be tempted to look at retaining the shape that has already brought back-to-back victories, although if I’m honest I’m not so sure he will. The 3-5-2/3-4-3 shuffle in the team was born out of a need to be compact defensively and whilst we’ve all been pleased at not conceding three goals per game of late, it hasn’t looked amazing, certainly from an attacking perspective. In those last two games we’ve been away and on the weekend we’re away again so it feels like continuing the same formation makes sense. But the emphasis will be on the team to create more in attacking positions and certainly we’ll have more of the ball tonight than we had at the weekend. So I just wonder if in Arsène’s head he might be thinking that the current formation is too conservative for a home game.
Of course the counter balancing argument of that line of thinking rests in the full backs. If you look at the way Leicester will look to counter through Mahrez and potentially Gray if he starts, it will be out wide and looking for balls in behind for Vardy to have a go, which suggests that they would want the Arsenal back four to be isolated. Three at the back provides possible cover because whilst one centre half can close the ball, two can cover, which motivates the risk of balls in behind. What it then does is mean that our wing backs are less exposed if caught further up the pitch. That means that the Leicester team have more to worry about out wide. The success of this formation lies in our wing backs having good games going forward as well as backwards and at the weekend those were the positions that excelled, especially in the second half, so if we’re going to win tonight we need big performances from whoever plays.
Wing back also requires a lot of energy, so if Arsène is going to rotate any position, I’d pick there. Gibbs and Hector going forward could be a good combination I think; both have pace and both have question marks about their defensive stability this season, but going forward they’ve been ok. So if either Hector or The Ox aren’t 100% I’d say save them for the weekend.
I suspect he’ll keep the back three as it is but I’d be tempted to give Big Per a run out. His organisation coupled with the fact he has more protection for his lack of pace could be important.
In midfield I’d imagine he’ll stick with Xhaka and Ramsey and the front three will probably just see the return of Welbeck if he’s fit. That all makes sense to me but the emphasis really will be on making this formation work going forward and building on the fragile confidence defensively. We need to see the same desire and intensity that we got against City in that second half. The players have for too many times this season just turned up in games and what we need to see is a collective who will respond to the obvious buoyancy of mood that going to an FA cup final will give the home fans.
Start quick, start fast and win Arsenal. We need it ahead of one of the most uncomfortable looking north London derbys in history.