Another matchday is here and it’s ‘Part II’ of our Death Run as we come up against Leicester City at The Emirates this evening.
This game is an intriguing one – and just as terrifying as the Wolves one – because of the way in which Leicester battered us on their turf earlier in the season, but also because of the way they play. This is a Leicester City team that will sit back and look to hit us on the counter and they’re one of the best teams in the league at it. They aren’t exactly like the one that won the league a few years ago, but they have the talent in their team to hurt us and certainly rapid wide forwards to support an evergreen Jamie Vardy who is this seasons top goal scorer in the Premier League.
But guess what? The league’s second top goal scorer plays for us and I’m hoping he adds to his tally tonight. Auba has played on most games since the restart because frankly he’s not somebody we can afford to leave out. He gave us 90 minutes on Saturday evening and I would be stunned if he wasn’t starting tonight. He’s one of the few players I think we could guarantee gets onto the team sheet.
The others – going from back to front – will be Martinez in goal, Mustafi at centre half, Xhaka in midfield, but that’s probably about it you’d have to say. Most other players in the squad are either rotatable, or they are coming back from longer term injuries, so it isn’t as if we have a team that Brendan Rodgers can 100% plan for, which is nice.
The Leicester Manager does have an idea of the way in which we’ll approach the game though, so it’ll be interesting to see how he counteracts our positional set up and fluidity in the zones of the pitch the players get themselves in to. For example if we see Tierney or Kolasinac on the left hand side, will they take up the very high positions we’ve tended to see them in? If he plays Saka will he put him more central with licence to drift out wide to the left at times? And if Auba plays, does he start him on the tea sheet on the left, but actually he drifts more centrally during the game? Think about the two goals Auba got against Norwich. Both poaching on mistakes, but the guy was in the centre of the pitch when doing it, so will we see that same drifting of players tonight and if so how will Leicester handle that?
In terms of how Leicester will line up the challenge of working out how they set up might also be a difficult one for Arteta. In their last game they beat Crystal Palace comfortably with a 4-4-2 style formation. Against Everton they were defeated at Goodison playing more of a 4-1-4-1 with Ndidi as the defensive screen and Vardy the loan striker. The home defeat to Chelski had more of a 4-3-3 vibe to it and the Brighton draw had the hallmarks of a 4-2-3-1. So in terms of how he’s got his team set up Rodgers has got his players well drilled enough that he can move his chess pieces to suit the opponent and the style of football he wants to play.
But whilst we don’t know the formation he’ll play, we know they’ll look to drop into a deeper, compact set up when we have the ball. I can see plenty of minutes tonight where our back line are sideways passing across the field to themselves, as Leicester tuck in and ask us the question as to how we’re going to break them down, followed by turning over the ball and then hitting us with rapid counter attacks.
Brendan Rodgers has said that Chilwell and Maddison are potential doubts but I suspect that’s just a bit of mind games. I’m expecting both to be available but even if they aren’t, Leicester have the likes of Gray and Perez as quick wide forwards who will be looking at a potential 3-4-3 from Arsenal as a perfect opportunity to get space and try to isolate one of the right or left centre backs in our side. I therefore wonder if Arteta will choose Bellerin for tonight’s game ahead of Cedric. I thought the Portuguese did well at Wolves, but Bellerin has been tucking in a little more and at times that’s made us a little more compact when we haven’t had the ball. Granted his performances have hardly been great, but it does make me wonder about what Arteta is thinking in terms of countering that obvious Leicester counter attack tonight.
Of course it’s not all about stopping Leicester doing what they do; we saw enough of that under Emery and none of us want a return to those dark days of football. Instead, we need to be able to impose our approach on Leicester and I certainly think it means more overloads in the wide positions. So I’m thinking the likes of Pepe and A.N.other overlapping him to put pressure on their left back tonight. Or the likes of Saka drifting over to whoever is our wing back on the left. The centre of their defence has the bulky but agile Soyuncu who partners Johnny Evans, but the Irishman isn’t the quickest in the world, so you’d rather see us try to get balls in behind than simply playing through the middle where both of their centre halves can face up to the ball and win the defensive duels with the play in front of them.
It’s not easy to predict this one. Home advantage means nothing any more and this season Leicester have been miles better than us, as evidenced by the league table. but we’ve won our last four games in a row and the confidence will hopefully have returned to this Arsenal team at least a little bit so I’m hoping that means we can impose our style on the game this evening. But we have to move the ball quicker. I’ve seen plenty of games since the restart in which our build up could have been much more slick and I’d like to see ya try to get the ball from back to front with more pace than we’ve been delivering. Maybe that comes with more confidence brought about with wins though?
We’ll find out tonight.
Catch you tomorrow with a dissection of the game.