It’s been a rather turbulent September for Arsenal. Red cards, nasty defeats, a big victory for our second string against Tottenham, poor refereeing, a lot of created (and missed) chances…
Now, the last Premier League match for Arsenal in September is going to be played today and it’s against the high-flying Foxes, who are yet to taste a defeat in the new season. It’s also going to be the last of four consecutive away matches for The Gunners. It won’t be an easy ride, as Leicester City – managed by Claudio Ranieri – have continued with their spectacular form from the final two months of the last season. They are unbeaten in the last ten league matches (W6D4) with just one defeat in the last fifteen league games.
Ranieri doesn’t follow the stereotype of an Italian manager. His team is yet to keep a clean sheet this term but, Riyad Mahrez et al from the attacking department have done their job brilliantly so far. Leicester have scored thirteen goals in six games, eight more than Arsenal. Mahrez has been absolutely brilliant so far, scoring five goals – just like Arsenal in total – and creating three more for his team-mates. Personally though, I believe Mahrez is more of a Michu (you might still recall the Spanish one-season-wonder who had had a brilliant 2012-13 campaign with Swansea but didn’t shine for too long), a type of player that benefits from the form of his team rather than a game-changer. Leicester have been resilient enough to claw back from being two goals behind in the last two league games – against Aston Villa and Stoke respectively – which should be a loud warning for our players in case we score first today.
We have been far from brilliant and consistent this term with our appalling goal-scoring record so far. The fact we have scored just five goals from ninety-three created chances screams about our biggest problem – lack of a world-class striker (via squawka.com). Granted, Alexis Sánchez is a world-class attacker but he is yet to open his account in his second season at the Emirates. Our conversion rate has been terrible, especially when you compare it to the one of Leicester City – The Foxes have needed just sixty-three chances for thirteen goals (via squawka.com).
Even if Francis Coquelin’s absence from the North London Derby turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Mathieu Flamini stepped up magnificently, we should be worried about how our defence and midfield will cope with opponents like Leicester today and Manchester United next week. The absence of Coquelin’s energetic and aggressive presence in the midfield leaves us with Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini as our options for the defensive midfield, which is one of the reasons why our defence looked shaky in the first half of the previous season.
The absence of Coquelin should also mean the absence of Santi Cazorla, even though the Spaniard available again following his red card against Chelsea. Cazorla has been used as a deep-lying playmaker next to Francis Coquelin for a while. Their combination has worked well as Coquelin does all the dirty work so that Cazorla can create chances for our attacking department. Cazorla was one of the worst Arsenal players against Dinamo Zagreb while playing next to Mikel Arteta and a defensive liability against Chelsea after Arsene Wenger had withdrawn Coquelin due to injury. That’s why Aaron Ramsey looks more like a reasonable choice for the central midfield than Cazorla while Coquelin is on the sidelines.
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Petr Čech will be the last obstacle for Mahrez and Jamie Vardy today. The Czech goalkeeper is slowly gelling with our back-line but it will come out well.
Hector Bellerin will return to the starting line-up as his rival Mathieu Debuchy didn’t impress against Spuds.
Nacho Monreal is a safe bet for our left full-back position. He has done well so far so there is no reason to worry for his place in the starting line-up even if Kieran Gibbs gave a rare good performance against Spuds. Monreal should be capable of silencing Mahrez today.
Following the farcical decision of the FA to suspend Gabriel Paulista for his improper conduct following the red card the very same FA had admitted shouldn’t have happened in the first place, Wenger will have to decide whether Laurent Koscielny will be paired with Calum Chambers or Per Mertesacker. Chambers hasn’t had too much luck with deflections against Chelsea and Spuds respectively, but other than that he has improved on his performance against Liverpool earlier this season.
The midfield conundrum is the one that worries me the most. Ramsey-Arteta, Ramsey-Flamini, Cazorla-Flamini, Cazorla-Arteta, Ramsey-Cazorla, Arteta-Flamini?
Mesut Özil will return to the squad. It’s worth noting that Özil had assisted for both of our goals in the last clash between the sides in February. Perhaps it’s time for his first goal of the season after creating twenty-two chances out of which just two were converted (via squawka.com).
Wenger might opt for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing. The Englishman’s final product still leaves a lot to be desired but his directness is a virtue that we don’t have in abundance.
Alexis Sánchez turned the run of play against Spuds with his aggression and mobility. He should have scored, but just like our other attackers (Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott), he missed a chance that a player of his class should convert. Let’s not forget Alexis scored his first goal for Arsenal at King Power Stadium last year.
Finally, our second biggest worry is a central forward. It’s likely Wenger will go with Walcott again, perhaps with a thought of Walcott’s goal against the same rivals in February.
It’s going to be a difficult game for us but the fact we are going into the game on the back of the victory against Spuds at White Hart Lane should work in our favour. Arsenal have failed to score in three out of six league games so far while Leicester – as I’ve already said – have failed to keep a clean sheet this season. It’s basically The Movable Object vs The Resistible Force. Nevertheless, it’s time for our players to start winning if we are to have any hope of challenging the Manchester clubs for the title. I’ve mentioned our victory over Leicester at the Emirates in February a few times already and there is a good reason for that – it was the start of our winning streak in the league that brought us to second place. We haven’t had too many victories against Leicester though – even The Invincibles had to settle for a draw – but this Arsenal team should be capable of building more positive traditions.
I’ll go with a 3:2 victory for us with goals from Alexis and Walcott (2) with Mahrez and Vardy scoring for the hosts.