Focus: How Arsenal can make gains through the middle at Leicester
Watching a swashbuckling Leicester charge towards the summit of the Premier League has been the highlight of the season so far. On Saturday, their frenzied punt-and-rush style will jar awkwardly with the patient tiki-taka of Arsenal, creating a possibly frantic match of tactical gaps and wildly swinging counter-attacking football.
Leicester’s main threat is, of course, Ryan Mahrez (4.2 dribbles per match, league best), who consistently finds space to charge towards goal thanks to the clinical directness of Leicester’s attacking philosophy. Continuing the simple tactics of his predecessor, Claudio Ranieri instructs his players to consistently launch long balls onto the head of Jamie Vardy (13.5 aerial duels per match, league’s most) to release the pace of Marc Albrighton and Mahrez out wide.
In an old-fashioned, English approach, it is unsurprising that Leicester have the lowest pass accuracy (70.6%) and second-fewest unsuccessful touches (9.7 per match) in the division.
This is the polar opposite of Arsenal’s short-passing, possession-based tactical strategy, but could be very effective considering Arsene Wenger’s high line and marauding full-backs. Arsenal’s offside trap (3 caught per game, 3rd-best in league) is unlikely to work too well, considering Vardy is superb at dropping off the backline to win flick-ons unexpectedly. If Hector Bellerin roams too far forward, Mahrez may well sneak in behind.
However, Arsenal remain heavy favourites for this match largely due to Leicester’s occasionally haphazard defending; in a gung-ho approach of surging counter-attacks, it is unsurprising that large gaps emerge between defence and midfield.
Three of their last four goals conceded came from a failure to apply pressure to the ball on the edge of their own area, and five out of their last six goals have resulted from losing the ball in their own half – and being caught rushing forward on the break too quickly.
Arsenal’s excellent pressing game and the return to form of Mesut Ozil make these flaws particularly vulnerable this weekend. Averaging 4.4 key passes per match, Ozil is certainly capable of finding space in the final third against a distinctly Cambiasso-less Leicester; how often the German receives the ball will depend upon Leicester’s ability to control their frantic rushes up and down the pitch.