Hands down, the tie of the weekend and potentially one of the games of the season that could decide the whereabouts of the title race, will take place at the Emirates, when Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and high-flying Leicester City.
For Arsenal, this is a must-win fixture. Simple as. The difference between the last ten years and this year from an Arsenal and Arsene perspective is the fact that if they don’t manage to win the title by May, then it has got to go down as failure and quite fairly so. They were tipped to win the league at the start by most pundits with Arsenal being the most stable team in the league in terms of structure, one of the more exciting and potent teams going forward and also the fact that a proper title charge has been long overdue. They are not really far off the summit at this stage though by the look of the table, only 5 points shy, but anything less than a win against Ranieri’s foxes at home – could just prove detrimental to their ambitions of winning the Premier League.
Leicester City are serious about this and there are no signs of them fading away from this genuine go at winning the league yet, and for all we know, there will not be anymore. It’s fair to say, they are contenders and some would call them favorites at this point and it is unimaginable now to claim they are, after the result against Manchester City at the Etihad; a resounding 3-1 away win against the strongest squad in England, who are particularly ominous at home. It’s been a magical year or so for the foxes and the fact that they have only lost 3 of the last 34 games in the Premier League, speaks volumes about their steady ascent to the top which goes a lot deeper than Ranieri and Vardy. The seeds were sown by the sort of reactive football played by Nigel Pearson towards the back end of last season which has now been taken to another level by Ranieri, obviously aided by the phenomenal efforts in front of goal by Vardy and Mahrez. Having lost the reverse fixture against Arsenal, a comprehensive 5-2 defeat, it will be interesting to see how the Italian sets his team up on Sunday.
Arsenal have no new injury worries ahead of the visit of league leaders Leicester City on Sunday. Midfielder Francis Coquelin is pushing for a recall, while forward Danny Welbeck could be included in the squad for the first time this season following a long-term knee injury.
The Foxes are expected to be unchanged, although January signing Daniel Amartey could be named among the substitutes for the first time. Long-term absentees Jeff Schlupp and Matty James are unlikely to feature.
The Gunners have scored a league-low 32.1% of their clear-cut chances in the Premier League in 2015-16.
Only Barcelona (10) have won more penalties in the top five European Leagues this season than Leicester City (9).
The Gunners have won 12 and lost none of the last 18 Premier League matches against the Foxes.
Leicester City have named an unchanged starting XI in their last five Premier League games; the last team to name the same starting XI in six successive PL matches was Arsenal in May 2015.
Key Men Comparison
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) v Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City)
Having created 99 chances in 23 appearances for Arsenal, it’s easy to see why he is the most creative player at Arsenal, or even perhaps in the whole league. The German international has been in scintillating form with 16 assists, closing in on Henry’s all-time assist record which stands at 20, at the moment. Not a stranger to popping up with goals either with 4 goals and a 68% shots on target – it’s safe to say Arsenal do heavily rely on his prowess up front and he will again be crucial to their chances of getting back in the title race with a win on Sunday.
Not the most noticed player at the club but certainly one of the most vital pieces of the Leicester City puzzle, Daniel Drinkwater has been phenomenal for the foxes and Ranieri, understanding the way the Italian wants the game to be played and fits in his tactical model like a hand in glove. Him and Kante form a key central midfield partnership who hound the opposition when not in possession and once they win the ball, the counter-attack is launched releasing the more skillful and quicker Mahrez, Okazaki and Jamie Vardy to cause havoc in the final third. Simple, yet hugely effective so far and it would be interesting to see who wins the battles in midfield when Drinkwater goes up against the likes of Ozil and Sanchez, on Sunday.
Football is a crazy sport but the only thing that controls the outcome more often than not is momentum which is with the visitors at the moment. I will still go for an exciting draw plagued by plenty of missed chances and goal-line clearances.
Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City