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The FourFourTwo Preview: Leicester vs Arsenal

Billed as

Fighting spirits versus the walking wounded.

LEICESTER FORM

Leicester e2-1 West Ham (LC)

Stoke 2-2 Leicester (Prem)

Leicester 3-2 Villa (Prem)

B’mouth 1-1 Leicester (Prem)

Bury 1-4 Leicester (LC)

ARSENAL FORM

Spurs 1-2 Arsenal (LC)

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal (Prem)

D Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal (CL)

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke (Prem)

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)

The lowdown

It’s been a sticky week for Arsenal on the PR front. Having been sucker-punched by Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Champions League group game, they were then gouged – both tactically and via the nails of Diego Costa – by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

Off the field it was even worse: fans responded to the 2-0 defeat by petitioning that referee Mike Dean – an officious blend of Mr Bean and Phil Mitchell – should never again oversee a fixture at the Emirates Stadium. Their reaction to the overzealous physicality of Chelsea’s leading man was to boycott the Costa coffee chain.

And then came the news of Arsenal’s cash reserve – all £193.1 million of it, and none of which was spent on a striker, defensive midfielder or any outfield player in the summer.

Such a frugal approach now looks particularly foolish given the recent injury to Francis Coquelin and the news that Jack Wilshere is possibly out for three months. “Things are not going to plan for Arsenal, but the season is young,” mused Mesut Ozil, prophetically.

Wenger’s mood will have been buoyed by the League Cup victory at White Hart Lane, but this is not the time to play Leicester, a team who have blended aggression with a stubborn streak, as evidenced by their 2-1 extra-time win against West Ham on Tuesday.

Unbeaten this season, they have come from behind to secure results against Spurs, Aston Villa and Stoke.

Their last two league results have been their most impressive, however, having trailed by two against Villa (they won 3-2) and Stoke (a 2-2 draw). Manager Claudio Ranieri has installed grit into his side, and their status as relegation battlers has been upgraded considerably. At present they look top 10 material.

At this rate a European spot might not be beyond them. Much of their success comes from speed and attacking verve, and in striker Jamie Vardy, attacking full-back Jeff Schlupp and winger Marc Albrighton they have the three fastest players in the division. “My team is like the RAF. It is fantastic. I love it,” said Ranieri. “I would also like to keep possession of the ball but we don’t have these characteristics in the team so I prefer to go straight away.” Arsenal are hardly slouches in the speed and ball-hogging departments. But they will have to guard against the counter-attack if they’re to avoid becoming Leicester’s latest statistic.

Team news

A deep sigh of relief was heard around Arsenal when Gabriel’s three-match suspension was overturned in the week, but there are still gaps in the Gunners' ranks. Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck remain absent. Most worryingly, perhaps, Francis Coquelin will miss this one. Santi Cazorla returns from suspension. For Leicester, Nathan Dyer is approaching full fitness, but Matty James is a long-term absentee with a cruciate knee ligament injury.

Player to watch: Jamie Vardy (Leicester)

He’s quick, we know that – Vardy reached speeds of 22mph during Leicester’s league win over West Ham earlier this season. But his pace has been matched by a ruthless streak in front of goal. Vardy has notched four goals so far this season and another England call-up is not too far away. His opponents here have speed too, but Arsenal will probably dominate the ball during this game. Should Leicester hit them on the counter – with Vardy ably supported by the likes of Albrighton, Schlupp and Riyad Mahrez, who has been involved in eight goals this season (three assists, five goals) – then Arsene Wenger’s back four will struggle.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (PL, Feb 15)

Leicester 1-1 Arsenal (PL, Aug 14)

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (PL, May 04)

Leicester 1-1 Arsenal (PL, Dec 03)

Leicester 1-3 Arsenal (PL, Jan 02)

The managers

Ranieri has urged his players to stay focused despite their powerful start to the season. “For me it’s just important to carry on this moment – everything is good. It’s important to continue to play like this. For this reason I told the players at half-time [against Stoke]: ‘OK, we are losing, but it’s finished, and now we start to play. Because they are desperate they score two goals; now we must be more desperate than them.' [We must be] fast, yes, but also calm, because we can make mistakes when we want to restart the action. It’s very important to pass the ball well. Or if you pass badly, it’s much better to lose the ball forward.”

Wenger seemed pleased with a win over a second-string Spurs – it eased the pressure on his own players. “We responded well to the challenge we faced, mentally and physically,” he said. “And we were unlucky to score an own goal. But afterwards we found resources to score a second. Tottenham gave us some scares around 70 minutes but then they dropped a little but in intensity, and we created an opportunities."

ALSO ON FFT.COM

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Facts and figures

  • Only once in the 18 Premier League meetings have Arsenal failed to score against Leicester.
  • Arsenal have converted just 6.1% of their shots in the Premier League this season; a lower ratio than any other team.
  • This game pits the team with the highest proportion of long passes in 2015/16 - Leicester (21.3%) against the team with the lowest proportion – Arsenal (7.4%).
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

A 1-0 home win.

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