Unai Emery’s Arsenal travel to the King Power Stadium with the pressure building on the Spaniard as they look to bounce back from Saturday’s draw against Wolves.
Leicester have been the Premier League’s surprise package, and sit in a well-deserved third place after eleven games. Clinical up top and added solidity at the back in recent weeks has made them an exciting prospect to watch, and they will fancy their chances of continuing their excellent run against an inconsistent Arsenal side.
Emery’s tactics were once again called into question last weekend, as they threw away a lead at home to Wolves, and the build up to the match has been overshadowed by the stripping of the Arsenal captaincy from Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka. A Europa League draw away at Vitoria saw Emery change his system once again, and how we lines up on Saturday awaits to be seen.
Second guessing how Emery will set up against Leicester is not easy, but predicting Leicester’s line up should be a simpler task.
Leicester have shown tactical consistency in recent weeks, lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and this has served them well, with their last two outings in the league resulting in eleven goals and none conceded. Against the likes of Southampton and Crystal Palace, Rodgers’ side have been expected to take the game to the opposition and find ways to break them down, and have been impressing in doing so.
However, one area of interest was how Palace varied their tactics between pressing the Leicester backline well, before dropping off, as Leicester controlled the game for large periods. Leicester’s centre halves showed their competence on the ball, however it was particularly full back Ricardo Pereira who struggled with the press, recording a pass completion of 68.2%, and could be subject to similar treatment from Arsenal once again. If successful in pressing the right back, it will allow Arsenal to win the ball high up the pitch and potentially expose Leicester in transition, so is certainly an area to keep an eye on.
However, they were able to play through the press on more than one occasion, and with Arsenal expected to press in a similar vain, the signs are promising. Jamie Vardy impressed once again in victory against Palace, and his pace in behind an Arsenal backline lacking in it, particularly down the right side if Callum Chambers starts, could be key to Leicester’s hopes. Arsenal traditionally look to play a high line and take the game to the opposition, and this would suit Vardy down to the ground. For all of
their creative players, the distribution from defence over the top is impressive, with Kasper Schmeichel key to setting away counter attacks, and Caglar Soyuncu’s long passing statistics also standing out at three long balls completing per game, it offers them an out ball against the press, as well as the ability to play through it.
With Arsenal expected to take the game to Leicester, the Foxes will look to sit deep and hit Emery’s side on the break. This will increase the defensive responsibilities for James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, and leave them with a slightly different role to what they’ve carried out in past weeks. They showed against Liverpool they are more than capable of adapting to this role, falling behind late on to a cruel penalty, so it is hard to see Rodgers changing the personnel and shape too drastically.
James Maddison impressed against Palace and has been influential in games against the Top 6 this season, and his statistics against the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United show he is more than capable of performing at such a high level once again. However, against Palace, it was his threat from set pieces that stood out. Creating eight chances in the game, seven were from set pieces, including Soyuncu’s opener from his corner kick. This highlights a further angle of threat from Leicester, and with a Leicester’s style leading them to accumulate a high number of corners in matches (7.18 per game), Arsenal will have to be on their toes defending from set pieces.
Arsenal set up 4-3-1-2 against Wolves on Saturday in their 1-1 draw, and whether Emery opts for this same narrow formation as he looks to include Mesut Ozil awaits to be seen, as if he is to attempt this once again, it could lead to worrying signs, particularly when up against Leicester’s impressive attacking full backs. Rodgers has shown he is happy to attack the side he believes to be most vulnerable, and if Chambers is preferred at right back once again, I expect Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell to have a large influence on the game. They were in impressive form against Southampton creating nine chances, whilst against Palace a fantastic team goal including highlighted the confidence and link up play down this side. Even if Nicolas Pepe was to return out wide for Arsenal and Emery revert back to a 4-3-3, it is certainly an area they will look to target, as his defensive work is questionable and Chambers could be exposed. The Wolves equaliser from Saturday will also give Rodgers some hope given the ease they were able to find space in behind the Arsenal backline, this time down Kieran Tierney’s flank.
If Leicester’s full backs are to press on, it does leave an area Arsenal can exploit on the break. Pereira and Chilwell often leaves spaces in behind, and it leaves Jonny Evans and Soyuncu a lot of ground to cover, and this could be a problem coming up against an attacking, pacey front line. Wilfried N’Didi will have his normal task of covering the defensive areas, something he has done in impressive style this season,
however Arsenal could look to overload Leicester in these areas, something Emery tried away at Liverpool to nullify the threat of Liverpool’s full backs. Alexandre Lacazette would offer a handful for the two Leicester centre halves and look to occupy them, potentially offering opportunities for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to isolate the Leicester centre backs, and if he can do so against Evans, will fancy his chances in a foot race.
Against Vitoria, Emery opted for a 3-4-3, and if he is to go for the same formation once again, it showed that they can be overrun out wide, as well as controlled centrally. They enjoyed 65% possession, however lacked the cutting edge to break down Vitoria, relying upon a set piece to take the lead, and only managing one shot on target. Dani Ceballos’ injury will have not helped, and although Emery could be tempted to stick with different personnel, it highlighted further problems Arsenal could have come Saturday.
One area worth noting is the expected goals of both sides, and in particular the clinical nature of Jamie Vardy up front. It has been well documented that Leicester have been clinical throughout the season, over-performing their xG of 14.29 by scoring 27 goals. However, it is hard to see that run ending at home to a leaky and open Arsenal defence, who have conceded 15 goals at an xGa of 17.07. Leicester will certainly be afforded chances, and the tactics Emery employs could be well suited to Leicester exploiting an inconsistent Arsenal side.
Chris Kavanagh takes charge of this encounter, and has so far dished out 50 yellow cards in games this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the card count rack up once again in what might be a frantic encounter. Arsenal themselves have seen their card count tally up to 26 yellows and one red, and when the going has got tough in games, they have often shown ill-discipline.
A fascinating tactical battle awaits, and it opens up a number of betting avenues to explore.
The tactics Emery employs will be key, and makes the individual player markets a minefield until an hour before kick-off. However, the unrest at Arsenal and the form of Leicester does make Leicester an appealing option at 2.05 (Bet365). If Arsenal are to try and press early on, they have proven their ability on the counter, whilst if Arsenal sit deep, the likes of Tielemans and Maddison, as well as the space they could be afforded out wide, has proved they are more than capable of breaking them down
A bet builder option appeals for the next bet, and available at 2.26 (Bet365), Over 1.5 cards for Arsenal and Over 5.5 Corners for Leicester takes appeal. The ill-discipline of Emery’s side, coupled with their high pressing game, will contribute towards an open game, and could see the cynical fouls tot up as they try and stop Leicester from breaking, as well as up against Vardy over the top. Arsenal have shown their vulnerabilities down the flanks, and coupled with the attacking prowess of Leicester in wide areas, it will certainly lead to targeted attacks in these areas. This increases the likelihood of Leicester corners, and with Rodgers’ side averaging 7.18 per game this season, it makes for an appealing bet.