By: Danny Shin
On Sunday, Arsenal will host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium with the Foxes currently atop the Premier League table at 53 points. They sit five points clear of Arsenal and Tottenham, who are tied for second place with 48 points.
Claudio Ranieri’s side, led by the goals of Jamie Vardy and the brilliance of Riyad Mahrez, could extend their lead over Arsenal to eight points with a victory. With that being said, all of the pressure is on the Gunners in this matchup.
Leicester City has won three straight matches, including a comfortable 3-1 win at Manchester City last weekend. The Gunners, on the other hand, defeated Bournemouth last weekend and realize that this match on Sunday is must-win in order to close the gap on the Foxes to two points with just 12 games remaining.
Arsenal did defeat Leicester 5-2 on the road back in September, but many did not expect the impact that result may have on the Premier League race. Here are the main keys to victory for each side:
Leicester City: Sit Back, But Score First
For much of this season, Ranieri has been lauded for sticking with his attack-minded, fast-paced style of football, no matter the opponent. However, that strategy backfired against Arsenal, so expect Ranieri to take a more practical approach to this match. In other words, expect Leicester to sit back on defense and focus on counter-attacks.
Remember, Leicester did have an early 1-0 lead over the Gunners in their first matchup before Arsenal took control and countered with two goals in the first half. After the Foxes took a third-minute lead at Manchester City last weekend, Arsenal have to make sure that they don’t give the visitors any early momentum. The Gunners have the talent to outplay Leicester over 90 minutes, but that would be made much more difficult if they have to play catch up. They did it once, but it’s not guaranteed that they can do it again.
Arsenal: Pace, Pace, Pace
Theo Walcott had one of his best games of the season against Leicester when he started at striker over Olivier Giroud. Walcott’s pace gave Leicester’s back four constant problems because of the free-flowing nature of the match. He scored on a quick counterattack and created many chances for teammate Alexis Sanchez, who had a hat trick in the last match. While Giroud is the normal first-team striker, manger Arsene Wenger may be tempted to insert Walcott back in the lineup to test Leicester’s defense.
Wenger would also be wise to stick with Gabriel Paulista as Laurent Koscielny’s partner at centre-back as well. In the last matchup, Per Mertesacker’s lack of speed allowed Vardy to blow
past the German for Leicester’s opening goal. Gabriel may not have the big-game experience of Mertesacker, but he does have the pace to keep up with Vardy, Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki up top. Leicester showed their pace on the counter against Manchester City last week, so it will be essential that Arsenal have the pace along their backline to contain Leicester’s attack.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Leicester City
The absence of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cozorla in the central midfield has made Arsenal far more open, with Aaron Ramsey always looking to get forward. Arsenal could still be exposed on the counterattack, but they are talented enough to give Leicester’s defense some problems. Expect both teams to share the points in an entertaining match.