I’m super nervous about today, lads and lasses, super nervous indeed. I think the reason why is because I fear what Leicester can do to us on the counter attack. They feel to me like a team absolutely geared up to smash and grab us and whilst their defence is nowhere near as resolute as Wolves’ was when it came to the Emirates a couple of weeks ago, I do worry about an early Leicester goal and us being picked off on the counter.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, we have won four on the bounce, we’ve been looking like a team growing in confidence and it feels like we are up and running after a difficult January for us. But we are about to get tested with three games in less than a week and these aren’t really games in which we could rotate much. And we’ve already seen what a thin squad we have. So injuries or fatigue could be a factor and a worry ahead of some vital games coming thick and fast.
Yes, we are in form, but so are Leicester City, who have also won their last four games and not conceding in their last three (Rennes, Leicester and Burnley). They have found some form back and have players returning back from injury, so it will be a pretty strong Leicester side that will take to the field in North London later this afternoon. And they will still have that memory of last season’s win at the Emirates fresh in the mind; a blueprint on how to pick up the points against us today. Their approach will be to be compact, but to rely on the pace and trickery of players like Barnes, Daka and Tielemans to cause us problems and I can guarantee you they will cause more problems than Watford, Brentford and Wolves did. They will create chances and we will need our defence to be on it today. Which is why I worry about Cedric, because Harvey Barnes plays on that side and I think he’s easily got the beating of the Portuguese right back. Tomiyasu sounds like he’s been rested for the Liverpool game – perhaps to ensure he is 100% fit – but Cedric will not have faced as stiff competition in an opponent as Barnes today. I watched the highlights of the Rennes game and Barnes absolutely roasted the Rennes right back for Albrighton’s goal, so if he turns on the afterburners against Cedric then I do worry about them getting in behind.
So the onus for us will be on making sure we keep the ball up their and and apply sustained and continuous pressure in their defensive third. We need to control the ball, be patient, but be wary of the counter. I suspect from a team perspective we will be unchanged from last weekend, which means Ramsdale in goal, Cedric at right back, Tierney at left back, White and Gabriel in the heart of the defence. In front of them the control of Partey is important, with Xhaka and Odegaard operating as those more advanced eights when we are in possession and in build up. But out of possession we need to ensure we are covering those spaces out wide and I think we also need to make sure we stop Tielemans from dictating any passing movement from the middle of the pitch.
In attack we have to go with Saka, Lacazette and Martinelli, but the return of ESR is a welcome one and we have options with him and Pepe on the bench, so if we need to throw a bit more firepower on in the second half then it is good to know we have that. I do wonder if Arteta would be tempted to give Pepe a run out because I seem to recall he’s had a couple of good games against Leicester’s left backs in recent years, but you can’t take the Starboy out of the team right now, so I think he’ll be kept in reserve in case we need to start going for the game in the second half.
The good bit of news for us is that Vardy isn’t fit for today. He injured himself last weekend against Leeds and Rodgers confirmed he won’t play, but in Iheanacho they do have somebody who scored in midweek and they also have Daka who could lead the line. Both are capable players and have a decent amount of pace about them, so just because the scourge of Arsenal Jamie Vardy isn’t playing, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of threats on the pitch for us.
What I do want to see is us go at them from the start. I want Arsenal to keep Leicester pinned back and I am also hoping that the fact they played on Thursday evening, whilst we have had a full week to prepare for this game, at least plays in to our hands a little in terms of fatigue as the game wears on. There can be no excuses for an Arsenal team who from a fitness and fatigue perspective can run the hard yards longer than Leicester, so I want that perceived advantage to come to fruition and I’ve got everything crossed that it can.
As for the league table itself, it is indeed another opportunity to make some space between some other teams. The Scum losing yesterday was probably a better result for us. If we can somehow overcome Leicester today it would put us level on games played with them, but crucially we’d be six points clear, with 12 to play. There is no doubt they have the easiest run of all of the teams left in the Top Four race, so the more daylight we can get between these teams the better. Man United are two clear of us too, but as of right now we have four games in hand over them. Those games we still have to play are of course really difficult ones like Liverpool, Chelski and the Scum which all need to be re-arranged, which is why games like today represent a big opportunity to slip up and effectively lose ground/any buffer if we aren’t 100% on it today.
My hope is for the continuation of the good form of Odegaard and Saka. It feels like those two hitting the high notes could have a big bearing on the game so I’m just hoping they can continue what they did last weekend and Leicester can’t live with our two in form players. But this is the Premier League. It is a hard league in which consistency is like gold dust. Leicester will be no mugs and I am expecting some chewed fingernails throughout. But if we come up with three points, then that’s all that matters.
Sing up if you are going – up the Arsenal.