Off the back of stuttering league form, Arsenal travel to The King Power Stadium to take on Brendan Rodgers’ high-flying Leicester City. Arsenal haven’t won there since September 2015, and have conceded three goals on each of their last two visits. Going into the game then, I cannot say that I am confident. In this article, I will look at three key battles which could prove vital in determining the result of the encounter.
1. David Luiz vs Jamie Vardy
Even at the age of 32, Jamie Vardy remains a potent goal threat. Against Arsenal, he has found the net eight times in their eight meetings, including a brace on the Gunners’ last visit. After a slow start, five goals in his last three games means that the English striker has shot to the front in the race for the golden boot. An in-form Jamie Vardy has the ability to challenge any defence in the world, and Arsenal will have to be particularly careful when attempting to play out from the back, a style which has already caused plenty of problems this season.
Arsenal’s defence, therefore, has a tough task on their hands. The responsibility, of course, will fall equally between the centre-halves, but I have singled out David Luiz in this instance as he is the only one guaranteed to start. Also 32, the Brazilian has endured an indifferent start to his Arsenal career, providing some great performances mixed with some traditional moments of Luiz madness for which he has a reputation. The veteran will need to be at his best in order to keep Vardy at bay, and therefore give Arsenal any chance of getting anything out of the game.
2. Lucas Torreira vs James Maddison
It has been almost two weeks since Granit Xhaka’s episode, which ultimately lost him the captaincy of Arsenal. In my opinion, this is entirely unfair, but the result means that he probably will not feature in Arsenal’s trip to the midlands.
This offers Lucas Torreira the opportunity to return to his preferred no.6 position at the base of midfield. He remains Arsenals most defensively aware and tough-tackling midfielder, and he will need to utilise all of this on Saturday evening. Although both of Leicester’s creative midfielders offer a strong threat, it is 22-year-old James Maddison who is undoubtedly the greater direct menace of the two. The man has been nothing short of outstanding since moving to Leicester from Norwich in June 2018 and created eight chances for his side against Crystal Palace. Maddison has finally and fully deservedly, if belatedly, been called up to the England squad, where I hope he can replicate his club form. All things considered then, he represents a considerable threat to Arsenal’s weak spine.
It will likely fall to Torreira therefore, to marshal the Arsenal midfield, and take responsibility for snuffing out danger at source. Having surely grown accustomed to the unusual box-to-box midfielder role which Emery has tried to force him into, it will be a shock to the system to revert to his traditional position. Arsenal desperately needs him to rediscover his form from early in his career in North London if they are not to find themselves blown away by The Foxes.
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs Jonny Evans.
I am expecting Unai Emery to deploy his side in a similar manner to how he tried against Liverpool with regards to the forwards. At Anfield, he attempted playing with two wide strikers who could exploit the space left behind by attacking full-backs. It almost paid off too, Nicolas Pepe proving wasteful when put through on goal.
Leicester City also possess strong, athletic and attack-minded full-backs in Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira. Pereira in particular often looks more suited to a right midfield berth, a position which he has been utilised for The Foxes previously. His forward runs, however, can lead to the centre-backs being a little exposed, as was demonstrated in their trip to Selhurst Park. On that occasion, Jonny Evans committed the foul and took the yellow card.
Throw the explosive and prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the mix, against the ageing centre-half, and the half-space between full-back and centre-back could be a very productive area for Arsenal to attack through. Aubameyang has been regularly used from the left flank during his time in North London, and his goalscoring record suggests that he is very accomplished at finding these sorts of spaces. If the Gunners are going to breach the Leicester defence, it will almost certainly be down the flanks in this manner, and if the Gabon international can isolate Evans running towards his own goal, you would favour the forward.
Being honest, I am not hopeful of Arsenal’s chances. I was there in the final days of Arsene Wenger’s era, when we were condemned to a 3-1 loss, and whilst Leicester have gone from strength to strength, Arsenal have regressed massively. Add to this the poor form the Gunners are currently experiencing, and all the signs point to a Leicester victory. If Arsenal can manage to win these three individual battles it would go a long way to gaining a result, and one which could act as a springboard for games after the international break.