King Power Stadium, Leicester
August 31st, 2014; 15:00 GMT
Arsenal FC and Leceister City FC come into this game looking to gain some type of familiarity. With Aresene Wenger looking to play Alexis Sanchez up top, Arsenal are working to understand how to play with the Chilean. They also have to adjust to playing without Olivier Giroud, whose presence as a target man played a significant role in how Arsenal played. With matches against Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, Galatasaaray, and Chelsea in the next 40 days, this understanding needs to develop fast. On the other end of the spectrum, Leicester City have to figure out the best way for them to survive a season in the English Premier League. While they did rescue a point against a fatigued Everton and played a good half against Chelsea, this side has plenty of work to do when it comes to their defensive system.
Team New and Tactics
Leicester City could be without Danny Drinkwater, and will be without Matthew Jamie and Jamie Vardy. New signing, Esteban Cambiasso, may play after Leicester acquired him on a free transfer from Inter Milan. If he does, he will probably slot into Dean Hammond’s spot in Leicester’s 4-4-2.
The back five of Leicester should look quite similar to the back five they have used in the first two matches with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Paul Konchesky at left-back, Wes Morgan and Liam Moore at center-back, and Ritchie De Laet at right-back. In central midfield, Leicester will likely continue with the duo of Dean Hammond and Andy Kind. Dean Hammond will play more of a destroyer role, while Andy King will be the man Leicester trusts most in possession to get the ball wide. On the wings, Riyad Mahrez will probably start on the right and Jeff Schlupp or Anthony Knockaert will start on the left. These players will look to break forward quickly with the ball and deliver crosses. Up front, Leceister have the partnership of Leonardo Ulloa and David Nugent. Ulloa will look to play the role of target man and be the man tasked to drop into midfield, so Leicester are not overrun by Arsenal’s midfield. David Nugent will look to play closer to the last defender, looking to run in behind the defense on counterattacks.
Overall, Leicester will likely continue with their counterattacking 4-4-2. They tend to base their defense on getting men behind the ball and the effort of their defenders. This could be problematic against a side like Arsenal, whose player and ball movement requires that teams play a much more sophisticated and well-drilled kind of defense. In possession, Leicester will look to play the ball long or get the ball to the wings to advance it into attacking positions. Unlike a side like Crystal Palace, Leicester’s fullbacks have some freedom to go forward to deliver crosses. This can lead to spaces for Arsenal to exploit when they win possession.
Possible Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Schmeichel (GK); De Laet, Morgan, Moore, Konchesky; Mahrez, King, Hammond, Schlupp; Ulloa, Nugent
Arsenal will continue to be without Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry, Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs, and Olivier Giroud. The Gunners will happily welcome the return of Aaron Ramsey, who could not play against Besiktas due to a suspension.
With Arsene Wenger seeming to want to continue with the 4-1-4-1 formation he has favored early in the season, it will be interesting to see how Wenger sets his XI. Against Everton, Santi Cazorla found himself on the bench and came on later in the match to make an impact. With an eye on the development of the squad, in addition to getting all three points, Arsene could leave one of Ozil or Cazorla on the bench to allow Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to form a better understanding.
The back five should provide few surprises with Wojciech Szczesny in goal, Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at center-back, and Nacho Monreal at left-back. In the holding role, Mathieu Flamini will probably continue with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey ahead of him. Out wide, Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla will probably play on the left, with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain on the right. Alexis Sanchez will probably continue to play up top.
With this formation, Arsenal should control the possession and the tempo of this game. With Ozil/Santi Cazorla coming inside from the left can help to exploit spaces left behind by Leicester City’s fullbacks or the fullback/center-back gaps, which Leicester have not defended well in their first two games. If Arsenal press or mark Andrew King out of the game, which they have the ability to do given their numerical advantage in the center of midfield, it will go a long way in reducing the ability for Leicester to spring counterattacks.
Possible Starting Line-up (4-1-4-1): Szczesny (GK); Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil; Sanchez
- The last time Arsenal played Leicester was the final game of the 2003-04 season, a season in which Arsenal went undefeated in the English Premier League.
- According to Whoscored.com Leicester City have 38% of their attacks come from the left, 38% from the right, and only 24% from the center of the pitch.
- Arsenal lead the EPL in short passes per game, lead the league in throughballs per game, and are 2nd in crosses per game. (Whoscored.com)
- In Arsenal’s two matches this season, only 21% of the action has occurred in their own half, which is the third lowest in the EPL (Whoscored.com)
- Arsenal have gone 3-2-4 in their last nine away games.
Player to Watch
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Really what one should look for is the growth in the understanding between Alexis Sanchez and the rest of his teammates. Olivier Giroud is out for the rest of 2014 and Arsenal need to adapt quickly to playing with the Chilean up top. There were signs that Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain were starting to develop a relationship, particularly in the second half of Arsenal’s match against Besiktas. There were also moments of misunderstanding between Ozil/Cazorla and Sanchez, which prevented a couple of goal-scoring opportunities coming to fruition. Given that Arsenal should not find much difficulty beating Leicester City, this match could help serve as a trial-and-error session with Arsenal’s midfielders figuring out how to adapt their games to all-around attacker and perpetual motion machine that is Alexis Sanchez.
Leicester City 0-2 Arsenal
While Leicester will show good effort in this match, there is too much of a gap in the quality of the two teams to predict anything other than an Arsenal win. Unlike a side like Crystal Palace under Tony Pulis, Leicester do not have the organization to keep things tight and potentially frustrate Arsenal for the entire 90 minutes. They also lack the athleticism that a club like Everton has, to consistently punish Arsenal on the counter-attack. As was said above, this match will serve more as a learning experience for both clubs. Leicester will continue to figure out what works and what does not work at this higher level of competition. Arsenal will look to figure out how to best player with their new center forward, hoping that experiencing growing pains in low-leverage situation will make them a better side in the future.