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article imageTactical Preview: Arsenal — Leicester City

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 12, 2016 in Sports
Arsenal handed Leicester City their first and most devastating loss of the current Premier League season, but the hosts must avoid defeat if they intend on remaining in the title race.
Arsenal handed Leicester City their first and most devastating loss of the current Premier League season, but the hosts must avoid defeat if they intend on remaining in the title race.
It was one of the standout performances of the season, and Arsene Wenger would be wise to adopt similar tactics at the Emirates considering Leicester’s substantial improvement this season. Essentially, Claudio Ranieri would prefer Arsenal dominating possession with Leicester breaking on the counter, but against Manchester City and Bayern Munich this season, the Gunners have displayed their ability to vary their approach when required.
Francis Coquelin should return to the starting XI and is expected to feature alongside Aaron Ramsey, adding defensive protection to the Arsenal midfield. The Gunners will still lack creativity in deeper zones, but Coquelin’s return offers competent defensive cover ahead of the back four when Ramsey surges into the final third. This still leaves Arsenal susceptible to counterattacks if they dominate possession, but a Mathieu Flamini – Coquelin pairing deprives Wenger’s men of drive and creativity from deep.
In the reverse fixture, Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez eviscerated Ranieri’s men on the counter, and both men would be equally significant if Wenger instructs his men to retreat into their half. However, Walcott’s recent dip of form could see the disciplined Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who also scored at Bournemouth last week – feature on the opposite flank.
Wenger’s main concern rests in identifying Laurent Koscielny’s centre-back partner. Despite suffering a 5-2 loss at the King Power Stadium, Vardy still netted two goals – the opener illustrated his overall threat. Per Mertesacker lacks mobility and is better suited to defend closer to his goal, whereas Gabriel’s athleticism would possibly negate Vardy’s speedy runs into the channels.
“I watched our game again because I wanted to know how this team had moved on since,” Wenger said.
“There is an evolution in their game, they’re more cautious at the moment. They play a lot in their final third and they come out very quickly.
Ranieri, on the other hand, won’t encounter any selection issues, and may field an unchanged XI. Shinji Okazaki will drop into midfield to help Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante limit Mesut Ozil’s threat between the lines, before storming forward to join Vardy on the counter. The Leicester pairing are exceptional out of possession, but have now displayed the ability to play quick intricate passes to bypass the opposition in central areas.
Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin also face a stern test against Leicester’s direct wide players. Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez will sit deep to negate the full-backs from joining the attack, but the latter, in particular, offers a legitimate goal threat with his mazy dribbling, and ability to score and beat his defender with either foot.
Last week, Mahrez showcased his overall threat in two of the three Leicester goals. First, he moved towards his right against Delph and Kolarov to win the foul that resulted in the Robert Huth’s opener. Then, the Algerian finished off a lightning quick counter-attack by winning a 50/50 challenge with Nicolas Otamendi, and bamboozling Martin Demichelis with his step overs, before firing an unstoppable shot past Joe Hart.
More so, the positioning of the Arsenal full-backs is equally significant. Leicester constantly played long diagonals behind City’s adventurous full-backs last week, and with Ramsey also expected to charge forward, Arsenal risk being completely overrun on the counter. This offers further evidence that Wenger’s men should be slightly more conservative, here.
“Maybe it's a key match for him, but not for us,” Ranieri said. “The pressure is on Arsenal because Arsene spends a lot of money every year and if they don't win it is a disaster.
“People want to put pressure on us because at the beginning they said: 'OK Leicester sooner or later will drop down'. “But now some people are thinking Leicester can win. We've done our job - anything more is fantastic.”
Ultimately, the pressure is on Wenger – a loss could end Arsenal’s title challenge, but the Frenchman also has several personnel and tactical decisions to make. Arsenal’s imbalanced structure will be susceptible to counters if they push forward and attack, further indicating that Wenger will have to go against his preferred philosophy.
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