Can we start again?
Last weekends season opener was not the start that a title hopeful should be making – but it is a trend that has started to take root.
Only one opening day win in the last six years does not exactly pave the way to success, and winning is a habit that may be hard to break, but also equally hard to begin.
For seventy minutes, the Gunners played well, passing well and generally keeping their opponents at arms length. Twenty minutes was all it took for Arsenal’s defensive inexperience to show, and four goals shipped in that time highlight the need for a seasoned warrior to lead the backline.
Next up is champions Leicester, so the going will not be letting up any time soon.
There are rays of optimism however, not all is lost.
Firstly, Leicester and Arsenal matches bring happy memories – think the Invincibles clincher, and Danny Welbeck’s emotional winner last term.
The only team to win both league matches against the Foxes in their amazing campaign, we may just have the gameplan to foil the counter-attacking team led by wily Italian Claudio Ranieri.
Both teams will be aiming to recover from losses, Leicester surprisingly lost to undermanned Hull City and were profligate in front of goal.
Arsene Wenger needs to roll the dice before kickoff – Laurent Koscielny is back in the reckoning after his Euro2016 exploits, and he may just get the nod to slot straight back in. Chambers and Holding held their own for a large portion of the game against Liverpool – but a lack of experience really told.
Another back in the fold may be Olivier Giroud – or a t least a spot on the bench. Alexis may also revert back to a wide berth, as injuries have already begun to bite.
Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey were both injured in the loss to the Merseysiders, and they both were given the dreaded four week layoff. Something of an inside joke amongst Gooners, as so often a player has been given the same diagnosis – only for them to miss the rest of the season…..
Hopefully this will not be the same, but regardless, they will both miss this match, so Joel Campbell may just get the chance his pre-season deserves. Alexis may move back to his familiar left hand spot, with Theo Walcott given a spot up top.
With the Number10 spot vacant, and Mesut Ozil mysteriously still absent despite playing less in Euro2016 than both Koscielny and Giroud, Santi Cazorla has an opportunity to gain fitness and to show what he is capable of.
Purely conjecture, of course. None of us know for sure who will play aside from the beleaguered boss himself, but there are certain players who appear to be higher in the pecking order than others.
With many starting players missing, then the opportunity to throw down the gauntlet and hold down a spot is there, and they must take it – take heed Walcott, Campbell and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Play well, and you may just stay in the side.
For Leicester, Wes Morgan’s regular partner Robert Huth returns after seeing out his suspension which overran from last season. Morgan will no doubt be pleased, as Ranieri’s defence was as porous as it has ever been in the defeat to the Tigers last weekend.
They still retain the threat on the counter attack, maybe even more so with the addition of the effervescent Ahmed Musa. Whoever plays in the centre of Arsenal’s defence, they will have to be on high alert for the full 90.
Where Leicester may just be lacking a little, is invention behind the strikers. If the quick ball for Vardy and Musa to chase is stifled, then aside from the newly signed up Mahrez, they may just struggle to create.
An intriguing battle will take place in the centre of the park. With N’Golo Kante plying his trade for Chelsea, it has given Welshman Andy King the chance to show Ranieri he can be the readymade replacement for the Frenchman, and an acid test to his claim may come against the Gunners.
Francis Coquelin, at times, was the wall Arsenal needed against a rapid Liverpool team last week, but errant positioning left his teammates too open at times – criminal when Rob Holding and Calum Chambers had a combined age of 41.
Will he pay for his errors? Granit Xhaka is thought to be the first choice for defensive midfield duties, and if he is up to speed and fit, then he will surely get the nod, but his partner could well be Mohamed Elneny – and the Egyptian will deserve it. He has been up to task whenever called upon, and his dynamism from midfield will be required to break down a clogged final third.
To end, here are some stats that could have some bearing in the game:
Leicester haven’t beaten Arsenal in 14 games
They do though, boast the most penalties earned and scored in the last year, so no rash tackles in the box please!
No defending champions have lost both opening games since Villa in 1981
First scorer? Worth a punt may be Alexis. He has four goals in two games at the King Power Stadium.
Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny, Xhaka, Alexis, Cazorla, Walcott. (A prediction only, may I remind you all that I know precious little).
Predicted scoreline? 2-1 to Arsenal, with Alexis and Theo to score.