The Big Match Tactical View: Arsenal v Leicester

Arsene Wenger's side desperately need a victory here
Arsene Wenger's side desperately need a victory here
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It's a massive day in the Premier League and it starts with a clash between the two title favourites. Michael Cox looks at the tactics while Alan Thompson assesses the best bets...

"Arsenal might need to use width against Leicester’s narrow shape"

Arsenal v Leicester
Sunday 12:00,
Live on Sky Sports 1.


Match Odds: Arsenal 1.84/5, Leicester 5.04/1, The Draw 4.1.


Leicester City proved they're capable of beating the big boys with last weekend's convincing 3-1 victory over Manchester City, but now the pressure is really on.

Everyone now considers Claudio Ranieri's side genuine contenders for the Premier League title, and these two sides are currently the two favourites. Whoever records a victory here will strengthen their chances considerably.

Leicester are no longer simply plucky underdogs, of course, but their success against Manchester City was essentially the classic underdog strategy - set-pieces and counter-attacks, opening the scoring through the former which allowed them to concentrate on the latter for the remainder of the game. That will again be their approach here, and Arsenal must be careful not to play into their hands.


Captain Morgan a tasty scorer bet?


The strange thing about Leicester's set-piece threat is that they're actually a surprisingly small side. Only centre-back duo Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are over 6ft, and for the free-kick that led to their opener at the Etihad, Leicester only had four men in the box against eight defenders.

Arsenal will concentrate on stopping Huth, who scored two last weekend, and therefore Morgan might be a better bet to score from a set-piece - he is 19.018/1 to net at anytime..

Counter-attacks could be problematic for Arsenal. Leicester's two forwards will keep the side compact before peeling away into the channels as targets for long diagonal passes.

Gabriel's extra pace means he'll surely keep his place ahead of Per Mertesacker, while Jamie Vardy's battle with Laurent Koscielny will be fascinating: Vardy is superb in the channels, but Koscielny is the league's best centre-back in wider zones.


Leicester to keep right on


Arsenal must ensure they keep their left-back zone filled. Along with Vardy's threat, Riyad Mahrez will play down that side too. He half-tracks opposition left-backs but also leaves himself in a position to counter-attack dangerously, and Arsenal can't allow him to dribble forward at pace.

Also, against City Mahrez showed he can increasingly go down the outside onto his right foot if opponents shut down his space inside, so Francis Coquelin or Mathieu Flamini won't be able to entirely cover if Nacho Monreal pushes forward, and doubling-up is also tricky.

Arsene Wenger might also be worried about Arsenal's midfield shape: Aaron Ramsey loves charging forward from deep, but Arsenal often end up with a poorly structured midfield which allows opponents to break through them easily. Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante are increasingly sprinting forward on the break.


Width more important than pace for hosts


Of course, Arsenal have plenty of attacking talents of their own, but they'll spend long periods attempting to break down a packed, deep defence which will refuse to push up the pitch. Therefore, pace won't be particularly useful, Mesut Ozil's through-balls will have to be pinpoint, and while Olivier Giroud's holdup play will be useful, Leicester's defence won't mind battling against a player in that mould.

Arsenal might need to use width against Leicester's narrow shape, which could come from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right - he scored a fine goal at Bournemouth last weekend - or from Hector Bellerin, who will be up against the relatively conservative Marc Albrighton and therefore will have more opportunities than Nacho Monreal to push forward.

The crucial to remember is that Leicester don't need to win and a point would be an excellent result for Ranieri's side. That very fact, however, and Arsenal's obligation to push forward, means Leicester will have plenty of chances to counter.

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

The Gunners have had a sticky spell of late winning just three of their last eight Premier League starts, all against sides in the bottom six, beating Bournemouth (home and away) and Newcastle at the Emirates.

The Foxes on the other hand are having the time of their lives, winning four of their last five with victories over Tottenham (1-0), Stoke City (3-0), Liverpool (2-0) and Manchester City (3-1) last week at the Etihad, scoring ten goals and only conceding two in the process (other game was 1-1 at Aston Villa).

Once again the Leicester manager has a fully fit squad to choose from and spirits couldn’t be any higher. After this game, Claudio Ranieri’s men have a run of five games against sides currently in the bottom half of the league. They don’t face a current top six side until April 16 (West Ham at home), by which time they could be just five games away from winning the Premier League.

Title favourites Arsenal simply cannot afford any more slip-ups. Losing to Chelsea (1-0) and then drawing here against Southampton (0-0) has left them five points behind Leicester and anything less than a win here will see the title odds flip again in this fascinating season.

Arsenal are of course are one of only two sides to beat Leicester this season and they did so comprehensively (5-2) at the King Power back in September.

But, I went with Leicester City last week at the Etihad and once again the "disrespectful" odds are allowing me to back them again, this time with a 'three quarter' goal advantage on the Asian Handicap +0.5 & 1.0 @ 2.01/1. This pays out if Leicester win or draw, and I only lose half the stake if Arsenal win by a single goal.

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