Showdown time has arrived. We take on Manchester City this evening and this game represents a clash between two heavyweights, two potential champions.
Should we write down Leicester as a team which won’t fight for the title? Common sense and basic logic say we should. Even the manner in which Leicester play is very dangerous for a team with title aspirations: open-ended football, the Foxes concede almost as many goals as they score. Only the bottom seven teams conceded more than Ranieri’s men – 24. For comparison’s sake, Arsenal conceded 13, United and Spurs 14 and City 17.
Right now the saving grace of Leicester is that they score more than they concede. But, of the 37 goals they scored (league high by some distance, naturally) 28 were scored by either Mahrez or Vardy. That’s 75%. Should Vardy or, more damagingly to Leicester, Mahrez, sustain an injury or should their form fade away or should the big boys come knocking in January, Leicester will have a hard time keeping up their current form. Because their leaky defense won’t go anywhere overnight, while Mahrez or Vardy can.
But after 17 games… Leicester are top of the league. They sit on 38 points having picked up their last 10 in games against United, Swansea, Chelsea and Everton. And Leicester will be top come Christmas, because Arsenal and City are 5 and 6 points away respectively having played just a game less.
You can not write Leicester off as far as I’m concerned. And you have to admire the work Ranieri has done. This time last year the Foxes were dead last, fighting to stay up. What a difference a year makes. You can’t of course forget about Nigel Pearson. The guy has come in, had a brilliant run from March to May and kept the Foxes up. But I’m not sure Pearson would have been able to do what Ranieri is doing now, which is turning relegation fodder into basically title contenders with a wave of the hand, spending less than 7 million pounds on Kante, Mahrez and Vardy, arguably Leicester three top players.
And how fitting it seems Ranieri was the one who ended Mourinho’s career at Chelsea, putting the final nail in the Portuguese’s coffin. If I was searching for a man who deserved the honour to be the last straw to break Mourinho’s back, Ranieri would be second only to Arsene Wenger. A likeable, intelligent guy, a shrewd manager, who has been the target of Mourinho’s insufferable behavior just goes and beats the Special One at the one thing Mourinho thought he was the best at: football. No mind games, no cheap taunts. Poetic.
But I’ve veered off a bit. Back to the task at hand: City. Let’s start with the usual team news.
Well, there isn’t much to report about on that front. We have the same squad that faced Sunderland a week ago, plus maybe Alexis Sanchez, who, according to Arsene “has a slight chance” to make the game. Arteta should be the next one to come back, hope he makes it in time for the Southampton game and the busy Christmas schedule following it.
Squad and approach
City’s game is no ground for experiments, so I don’t expect many changes. No Chambers, no Gabriel, no Oxlade-Chamberlain, if you ask me. The only two changes I can see Wenger making is Alexis Sanchez back on the wing and Walcott up top.
As for the first change, I’m not sure Alexis will, or indeed should, be risked from the first minutes. But I also can’t see the Chilean missing the game of that magnitude entirely. A place on the bench seems the most likely and the most logical decision.
Regarding the Theo/Giroud dilemma, it would most likely depend on whether Sanchez starts on the left. Of course Arsene can play Theo up front and Oxlade on the wing, but again, playing Ox is a risk based on his current form. However if Sanchez starts… Then Theo is probably a better option up front. Simply because he’ll keep City’s defenders on the back foot and will be better suited to exploiting the gaps on counter attacks, whereas Giroud will engage in a physical battle with Otamendi and Demichelis. But it all hinges on Sanchez starting, because I don’t believe Wenger will risk starting Oxlade.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Campbell – Walcott – Giroud
As for the approach, well, I don’t think Pellegrini will change his game and decide to sit back. Wenger is more likely to do that, we’ve seen how he did it at the Etihad. Question is whether he will want to do that at home, in front of the fans.
Personally, I’d advocate exactly this. Without Coquelin and Cazorla we are more vulnerable on the counter and City have quality in abundance to hurt us there. But a carefully thought-out more guarded approach can bear fruit. Hope Wenger showed his lads the reels from City’s losses to Spurs, Liverpool and, most recently, Stoke.
With the right plan, City can be picked apart. Their main weakness right now is the Demichelis-Otamendi partnership. Demichelis is just not very good at defending, while Otamendi is still adapting to the Prem. Hart is also no Cech (ha!), so creating good chances will basically equal goals. We can be sure Hart is more likely to concede than to save these. He has one of the worst big chance save percentages among the top keepers, maybe one of the worst in the league – under 40%. For comparison’s sake, Cech has a 74-75% one.
Another point to bear in mind is City’s midfield. They have no Fernando right now and, like Kompany’s absence, it’s a big plus for us, because their midfield won’t be as secure with Toure at the base. However, it still looks quite daunting and more physical than ours. So we’ll have to stay compact, otherwise City can rip us apart. Another thing in favour of a more guarded approach.
Quite frankly, I see no reason why we can’t beat City, especially if Alexis Sanchez returns. Stoke, Liverpool and Spurs were all able to comprehensively do it and we can’t say it was down to luck or City being off on the day. They just identified City’s weaknesses and were able to correctly exploit them. Why can’t we do the same?
This game is more of a “must-not-lose-it” than “vital-to-win-it”. But it has to be said a draw means we’ll trail Leicester by 4 points. It will also mean a harder 2nd part of the season, since we only play Chelsea and Leicester at home. Liverpool, City, United, Tottenham will be all away games, which means additional difficulties in picking up points, meaning we better do it now.
So come on you Gunners.