Here’s a cheery thought: Jamie Vardy has scored 11 goals against Arsenal in 12 appearances.
It’s a phenomenal record and recalls the nightmare years when Didier Drogba could wake up of a morning, look at his diary, see he was due to play Arsenal and know that it would be another scoring day for him.
Vardy got the only goal when Leicester beat us at the Emirates on October 25th. We had plenty of possession in that game but, inevitably, the Foxes hit us on the break and grabbed the winner.
I looked back at the match report I wrote after that game. With hindsight it is clear that it took place at a time when our problems were only just beginning to really show themselves. We had won three of our first four Premier League fixtures, losing only to the reigning champions, Liverpool. Then we lost to Manchester City and then we played Leicester… and things went further downhill afterwards.
Including the City and Leicester games, we had a run of 10 games where our record was W1 D2 L7. Even worse than the results themselves was the way we were playing: in a constipated, unambitious style and formation that made it almost impossible to create scoring chances let alone take them.
With what now seems at least a modicum of foresight I wrote the following: “I’ll leave it to the better tacticians among our commenters to get into the nitty gritty of what we did wrong, but the big picture was that we lacked creativity, we were slow to the point of glacial in moving into attack and too many players were below par…
“I back El Patron to find the answer, and I’m sure it will be something to do with the way we set the team up, but we haven’t found it so far.”
Whether Mikel Arteta found the answer or it found him (due to injuries and Covid absences) is a point for discussion, but since changing our personnel and shape against Chelsea at the end of December we have been on a much better path. Admittedly a path with ups, downs and potholes, but one that at least seems to lead somewhere positive.
So what does that mean for today? I think it means we can have a reasonable expectation of success. Last time we played Leicester we had as much chance of creating an opening as a power drill with a bit made out of plasticine. Today it’s different. We have players like Saka, Tierney, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang and Odegaard who can really hurt our opponents.
Today Leicester will face attacking movement, intelligence and finishing multiple times more dynamic than what confronted them at the Emirates.
Our problem may well be at the other end. Vardy never seems to miss against us and Leicester have other outstanding players in fine form including James Maddison (who is doubtful for today with a groin injury) and Harvey Barnes.
Barnes has been scoring a lot of goals this season but I feel that if we can stop Vardy – Leicester’s talisman against us – then we have a very good chance of winning.
How do we stop Vardy? We need to score first and ideally get a two goal cushion so that we do not have to spend long periods chasing the game. It’s when we are desperately probing for a goal and, therefore, stretched at the back that Leicester invariably hit us on the break with Vardy.
With that in mind I would like to see us start on the front foot and with a lot of attacking aggression.
As far as team news goes, we have a full squad to pick from apart from Rob Holding who remains unavailable because of concussion protocols.
I really, really, really want Arteta to put Smith Rowe back in the central attacking position behind our front striker where he operates so well and seems to have a psychic understanding with Saka. As I said before our last game, my preferred front four would be Lacazette as the point with Aubameyang – Smith Rowe – Saka behind him.
However, El Patron seems to be a little bit in love with Martin Odegaard and may well start him in what should be ESR’s position again. Odegaard may well come good, but as I’ve said before (a) he’s on loan and (b) he has not so far looked as good as our home grown star in the making, Smith Rowe.
Aubameyang is in terrific goalscoring form and whether he starts on the left or down the middle he will carry the biggest threat and will make Leicester’s defenders nervous every time he gets the ball.
Here’s the team I expect to see:
Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney
Xhaka – Partey
Saka – Odegaard – Pepe
It’s great that Partey is fit again and can partner up with our very own Duracell bunny in deep midfield, Granit Xhaka.
Further forward I’m guessing that Smith Rowe will be rested and Pepe will be given a chance on the left, where he has looked good in recent outings.
The form book (and the pundits) have this one down as a home win. I have a sneaky feeling we’re going to come away with all three points.
Come On You Gunners!