UPDATE: Thursday, August 10th
Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are back in full training and could feature in the match against Leicester. I do not expect either to start, but at the very least this provides depth. Iwobi and Welbeck may be utilized as impact substitutes if Wenger decides to start Ozil.
We did it. We made it through the long night. The Premier League season is upon us, and with it…comes hope. Pure, untainted hope. There is no gap to close between us and those that sit atop the table, and there have been no points dropped. The slate is clean, and it is our very own Arsenal that have the opportunity to stake the first claim and plant that beautiful red and white flag firmly in the ground for all to see. They must make an example of those who underestimate, and poke fun. But to do so, Arsenal must break the mold of recent history.
The season kicks off on Friday night against the 2015-16 Premier League Champions, Leicester City. That’s not exactly an ideal match up when you take a look at Arsenal’s history of season openers. In the previous seven season openers Arsenal have only managed to grab one win…one…in SEVEN. Last season’s opening loss to Liverpool was at least forgivable, but in those seven opening matches Arsenal have lost to the likes of Aston Villa and West Ham as well. To top it off, Arsenal finished in 5th last season, one point behind Liverpool. If they managed to not let one of the four goals in against Liverpool last August, we would be talking about Champions League right now. I don’t think I need to provide further information to prove that Friday night is not only vital in the immediate situation, but one goal can make the difference between Champions League and Europa League when it comes to the end of the season. With the league only getting stronger, Arsenal needs to fight for every point. With all of that being said let’s take a look at the match that awaits Arsenal on Friday.
I’m going to get the squad news out of the way immediately. Wenger has said that Mesut Ozil has a bit of an ankle issue, Aaron Ramsey has a calf problem, and Alexis isn’t ready to play yet. Jesus…that’s quite a hit to the squad if all of this is remains true until match day. Typically, all of the previously mentioned players would have a spot in the starting XI. The Xhaka/Ramsey partnership that formed last year proved to be vital to the flow of the team, and Ozil and Alexis are obviously starters in their respective roles.
If the Community Shield is any indication, I would assume that Elnenny will be taking over for Ramsey, Iwobi will fill in Ozil, and Welbeck or Walcott will hold Alexis’ spot. Starting Elnenny provides plenty of defensive cover for the back three. Having both Elnenny and Xhaka on the pitch sets up an ideal midfield for counter attacking football. The team did pretty well pressing against Chelsea on Sunday, but it would be a surprise if most of Arsenal’s plan for Leicester didn’t involve counter attacking. If Wenger, in fact, goes with the Community Shield team, then the attack will be filled with insane pace. Welbeck, Iwobi, Lacazette, Bellerin, and Ox will all be assaulting Kasper Schmeichel. All we need to be successful is to have Elnenny continue running around like a mad man regaining possession, and have Xhaka sending in long balls to the speedy attackers. That is what they are both best at, so I have faith in this midefield.
Although Sanchez most likely won’t get the start (who even knows with this guy), there is no doubt in my mind that he will be in the squad. He is too valuable and I’m willing to bet my life on the fact that he will end up on the pitch at some point. Hopefully he’ll be introduced late on to get some minutes and seal up the win, not be relied on to help the team claw it’s way to three points (or worst case scenario, a single point).
This Leicester team does have a bit of bite when it comes to goal scoring. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are known entities at this point and while they struggled at the beginning of last season, they hit their stride under Shakespeare and finished the campaign well. I know that Mahrez has been linked with Roma recently, and even Arsenal a bit, but I expect him to be playing for Leicester come Friday. On top of that it seems that Leicester have upgraded from Okazaki to Iheanacho. Last season Iheanacho was scoring at the rate of a goal per 96 minutes. That’s prolific. Will that rate dip down a bit when he is given more playing time at Leicester? Most likely, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a deadly threat. With Mahrez pulling the strings and setting up opportunities for Vardy and Iheanacho, the Arsenal defense will have their hands full.
With no Koscielny (suspension) and a stitched up Mertesacker, the situation puts a lot of pressure on the likes of Mustafi and Rob Holding. I wouldn’t be surprised if the back three consisted of Mustafi, Holding, and Kolasinac. Given his performance on Sunday, Kolasinac deserves a spot in this team against Leicester.
Wenger should go with the three studs I just mentioned, and throw Bellerin and Ox at right wing-back and left-wingback respectively.
I expect Leicester to come at Arsenal’s defense full force. This match will be a back-and-forth affair, but one in which Arsenal come out on top. Leicester’s feistiness will get the better of them and they will be caught on the counter. This Arsenal team is perfectly suited to catch the opposing side with their pants down, thanks to the pace in the attack and the composure in the midfield.
Arsenal also has a tremendous record against Leicester City. The Gunners were the only team to beat Leicester twice in their title-winning season. In fact, Leicester hasn’t won a Premier League match against Arsenal since 1994. So, if you’re an optimist you can look at this information and relax. However…if you’re like me, you are more likely to look at the ghastly 1-in-7 season opener statistic and feel a little bit sick.
Alright, so at this moment I am feeling a 3-1 win against Leicester on Friday. Lacazette was so close against Chelsea that he will want to make up for it and get a jump on the (fingers crossed) golden boot race.
Lacazette and Iwobi to score, and sadly I predict a goal from Vardy as well. That one goal won’t be enough though! Even I am optimistic, this is insane! There is no feeling like preseason naivete.
But maybe that’s due to all of the celebrating in Tottenham’s “home” that we’ve been doing lately.