It’s Time to Outfox the Foxes – Gooner’s Love Affair with ‘Le Coq’ to resume on Valentine’s Day

Arsenal vs Leicester


Matchday №26 is looming large (in fact it’s already upon us at the time of me writing this), however, I think I won’t make a grave mistake by assuming most eyes will be fixed on Sunday’s fixtures and not so much on Saturday’s.

It is understandable: the top 4 teams are playing one another on February 14th, with Arsenal hosting Leicester and Spurs visiting City. Journalists this week have been mostly focused on the former game, marvelling at Leicester’s meteoric rise and wondering if their current run of form is sustainable.

The good of it is that it takes some of the heat off Arsenal. No disrespect to Ranieri’s men, but I couldn’t understand the logic of those writers piping up the Foxes as favourites for this top-of-the-table clash. Leicester have been great, they have only suffered one loss since going down to us in September (a fluke 1-0 away at Liverpool too), however it still beats me how Arsenal can be viewed as the underdogs on home soil to ANY team in the league. We have lost at home this season, yes, (twice in the league), but both losses were, if I’m to borrow Arsene’s phrase “under very special circumstances” and on both occasions we were the favourites prior to kick-off.

Say who are the favourites?

Team news update

What is more, our ranks have been growing increasingly, erm, swelly (is that a word?), what with Coquelin and Alexis finally making their way back to full fitness. Welbeck should also return soon, though I doubt it will be against Leicester:

“I think he is very close. Fitness-wise he is there, it is just competition he misses. It is a bit early for him maybe but he is now back to full power in training. It is a big possibility [he could be involved against Hull next week]. We gave him one or two days recovery after the under-21 game, but now he is back in full training. He has worked very hard and he is fit”.

With Cazorla and Wilshere “it’s a question of weeks”, though these weeks look like they’ll eventually stack up to a month:

“They are back running, they are on a fitness programme now so it means it is not a question of months anymore, it is a question of weeks for them to be back. I can’t count on them in the next three or four weeks”.

And of course poor Tomas Rosicky remains on the sidelines with no return date as of yet, which means he’s not close to one. Alas.

However the recent inclusion of Alex Iwobi in the senior squad means we now have 22 players to count on, the imminent return of Welbz will make it 23 and that’s great to hear. It means Arsene will have to omit 5 players from matchday squads on a regular basis and only Iwobi looks the fall guy for now.

Webz is due back soon


I think a maximum of two changes is in order: Coquelin for Flamini (should have done it, like, three weeks ago) and Walcott for Giroud. Oh, and maybe Campbell for Oxlade, but that’s not even a hunch, more of a personal preference based on the opposition we are facing.

The other selection dilemma is the Gabriel/Mertesacker decision, but I get the feeling we’ll see Gabriel start once more:

“Sometimes I use a different formula. Per Mertesacker is a great leader, a very respected one in our dressing room, but I have three centre backs and I adapt a little bit to their level of form, to the number of games they’ve played and to the opponents we play against. What are their strengths and where can they hurt us?”

Update: it looks like Gabriel’s participation is under question owing to a possible thigh injury. If he’s not fit to play, then there’s of course no question regarding who will.

Coquelin for Flamini seems an obvious one. Neither are going to solve our midfield control problems, so the choice boils down to who is better at what they do best. We have a clear winner here and it’s not the billionaire playboy. Unless, of course, Wenger springs a surprise and pulls Arteta out of his hat or hands Elneny his PL debut. Think we can safely forget about poor old Chambers’ chances at this point.

Long due a start in the league

Walcott for Giroud is much less obvious. Yes, our handsome Frenchman hasn’t scored since the game at Anfield, but then Walcott’s last goal happened even longer ago, in December. Since then he has done little to convince anyone he is the answer (regardless of what the question is). Two things speak in his favour, though: Theo’s ability to turn up for big games in a big way and the fact Alexis seems much more comfortable with the Englishman up front. However, Theo’s recent form is abysmal in the extreme, so I, for one, would be mightily surprised to see him start.

And finally, we have the task of guessing the manager’s thinking on the Oxlade/Campbell subject. Personally, I’d start Joel over Alex, seeing as he offers better protection to Bellerin and I’m sure Bellerin will need all the help he can get to contain Vardy. Especially if Mertesacker starts and Hector will be instructed to sit tight so as not to expose Per’s lack of pace.

However, I think Ox is the more likely of the two to play from the first minutes. His recent escapades (an assist vs Burnley and a well-taken goal vs Bournemouth) surely have put him back into Arsene’s thinking:

“I’m convinced that that will give him appetite to score more, to give more assists and to go more in the final third, where he can be deadly.

You cannot imagine when you look at Alex that he will not score goals. He has power, pace, technique, finishing.

I believe that only he maybe did not believe enough that he can score. That will convince him and hopefully it’s the start of many more.”

Back into the manager’s thinking

Oxlade starting offers another dimension to our attack, as he is a very good dribbler and is likely to be much more useful than Campbell against teams sitting deep (something Leicester will undoubtedly do). Furthermore, he is one of the few natural wingers we have, one who sticks to the wing often and this in itself is another useful quality against the Foxes, who prefer to play narrowly and vertically, thus leaving space on the flanks.

But Oxlade will have to be very conscientious about his defensive duties. As I’ve said, Bellerin will require help to stop Vardy. If it doesn’t materialise, we may find ourselves in a difficult position indeed.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Ramsey – Oxlade – Ozil – Alexis – Giroud

Giroud is likely to keep his place despire recent struggles

The verdict

It is quite clear how the teams will set up initially, if not for the most part/the entirety of the game. Wenger sums it up here pretty well:

“They (Leicester) are more cautious at the moment. They play a lot in their final third and come out very quickly.

Look at the number of direct balls from their half to the opponents’ half. They are higher than anyone else because they have Vardy on his way straight away when they win the ball – they do it very well. They suck you in and go very quickly in the opponents’ half. At the time they were a bit more all going. Today they are a bit more ‘let’s sit here and use our strengths’ in a very efficient way, which is what they did remarkably well against Manchester City.

We will try of course to stop their counter-attacking. But at home you have to express your strengths and our strength is to have the ball. We have to try to express our strengths and as well try to stop them from hitting us on the break.”

Here’s roughly what we should expect

We know what to expect, the question is, how we deal with it when it comes. That’s a question most Premier League teams have been unable to find an effective answer to this season. Indeed, I think only one team can be said to have had some joy against the Foxes in 2015-2016.

That team is Arsenal and that’s what makes me that bit calmer about the upcoming game. Yes, Leicester have evolved since then, Ranieri has adapted their approach, tweaked it enough for Leicester to go on an amazing run of 16 games with only one defeat in it. But it’s still comforting that we’ve already dealt with the Foxes once (efficiently too). It’s a precedent. Which means we can do it for the second time.

So come on you Gunners.

Back with a review

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5 Responses to It’s Time to Outfox the Foxes – Gooner’s Love Affair with ‘Le Coq’ to resume on Valentine’s Day

  1. Victor Thompson February 13, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    Hi Alex, I hope you enjoyed your holiday.

    Leicester are a team with at least 4 Players that most clubs would like to have on their books. Moreover they cover each other on the pitch and they play a fast incisive brand of football which no other club does. It is refreshing to see a “band of brothers” play with such joy and camaraderie on the pitch, with no airs and graces about who they are. We underestimate them at our peril.

    They will not change their game plan to accommodate us. They are happy what they do and it has toppled many bigger clubs than themselves.

    Arsenal on the other hand are a machine made up of many diverse parts which don`t always work in unison. We have to make allowances for certain players being injured whilst Leicester appear to be able to cope with much less options than us partly because they appear not to suffer from serious injuries.

    What are the options open to us? You have identified several options and it seems that amongst the many players ( comparatively ) there is a slow German and a non-english speaking alternative. We are pondering over which of them to play to deal with their blitzkrieg attack of Vardy and Mahrez. We on the other hand have Giroud, Walcott, Ozil, Sanches, Campbell etc. to keep their defence busy yet we have such an abundance of players to choose from that we cannot make up our minds what to do.

    The reason is that we have no midfield. We have Coquelin who is more than the equal of any man on their team who is capable of defending the midfield. Unfortunately that is where our advantages end. Flamini is a liabilty as he will make rash challenges leading to bookings whilst at the same time instilling panic into our defence. Mertesecker is very good at making interceptions or tackles when the opposition is within reach. Unfortunately, he is frequently not within reach and other teams recognise that. Much as I like the BFG, he provides an opportunity for well coached teams to attack the very heart of our defence. We suffer from the ensuing panic which spreads like wildfire and the other defenders seem to lose discipline and control.

    The result is panic clearances and misdirected passes. Can you honestly say that this scenario is unfamiliar?

    We have no leader on the pitch, particularly in defence and therefore no one to “steady the boat”. The conundrum for us is that at times when we act instinctively and jettison the nerves which we seem to have and do a “Leicester”, we can beat Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus etc. Are we too complicated for our own good? Should we not be concentrating on what we are good at and let the other team worry?

    We have the skill. What we lack is the conviction and the lack of fear so that we can take teams on. When we are playing the top teams, we always seem to perform best when the game or the tie, is already lost before the Arsenal spirit emerges.

    We are not Leicester and with due respect to them, we are Arsenal. We have a well recorded history in the last 20 years of playing and winning games in style thanks mainly to Arsene Wenger but latterly he has been unable to come up with the answers and when his mistakes are pointed out, he derides the critics who provided the advice.

    We approach a very important match against Leicester in trepidation, because if we lose, we are out of the championship and plunged into a battle for survivorship in the top 4. We should not be in that position.

    You and the other fans may have your own ideas as to why we are in this position. My views have been repeatedly aired, and unfortunately the source of our under-achievement rests with Kroenke and Wenger. If you have an alternative plausible explanation I would love to hear it.

    Meantime, I shall continue to support my lifelong club in despair because if nothing is done to change the status quo we are condemned to be also-rans.

    • Alex February 14, 2016 at 7:28 am #

      Hi, Victor. I’ve had a good holiday, thanks 🙂

      I agree with you on most points. We do look like a team which depends on its best players staying fit and clicking, maybe more so than other teams, but you have to admit we coped rather well with a November injury crisis this year. Southampton debacle aside, we’ve even been able to thrash Olympiacos in a vital game. Incidentally, the pressure was on us in that match and we delivered. We’ve also beaten City and could have thrashed them, had Campbell not fluffed his lines early in the 2nd half. No mean feat. Our January results were far from perfect, but again, back-to-back away draws against Liverpool and Stoke were mostly viewed as negative (I suspect) because they were, well, consecutive. Sandwich a couple of wins between them and I don’t think people would have moaned as much. With Chelsea and Southampton we were mostly unlucky (the former seem to exude a magical influence on us, making everyone lose their heads. Which leads to stupid mistakes like the one Mert made), the latter we were plain unlucky. Some bad finishing was involved, sure, but Forster was magnificent. He now has 6 or 7 consecutive clean sheets, by the way.

      Our midfield, while not ideal and rather limited, is not that bad too, assuming Coquelin – Ramsey – Ozil is the trio for now. Two of them are starters with everyone fit, Ramsey is either 2nd or 3rd, but I don’t think you’ll deny he is a quality player, a more than capable stand-in and it’s hardly him who has been the root of evil or the persistent cause of us underperforming. I agree completely on your Flamini points, though.

      As for Leicester playing like a boy band, yes, they are playing that way and reaping the rewards, but playing without pressure is the hardest (and rarest thing in football ). It’s very hard to achieve, though of course you can argue Arsenal cracks under said pressure more often than others. While I can also recall occasions when other teams cracked or when Arsenal didn’t 🙂 I think the pressure will eventually get to Leicester, by the way.

      Finally, on your points about Arsene and Kroenke. You can make a case we stagnate under the former, however, looking at what is happening at United after Fergie has left, I shudder at the thought what may happen to Arsenal when Wenger does go. There is no knowing, we can of course improve on the pitch under a new manager, I, for one, think a new manager with a be mentality may us improve simply by shaking things up, but looking at clubs that have regressed after their respective long-term managers left (United, Everton, Liverpool), I can’t help but fear that we too go down that road once Arsene call it a day. Same with Kroenke. I’m not his biggest fan, he keeps silent and some of his transactions are questionable, but I’d definitely have him over Usmanov any day of the week.


      • Victor Thompson February 14, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

        Hi Alex,

        Thank you for responding. As I write, we have won against Leicester and both substitutes scored. Well done AW for making the subs.

        • Alex February 14, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

          No worries, Victor.

          We may not always agree, but your comments are always very thought-out and, might I add, very educational.


          • Victor Thompson February 14, 2016 at 10:52 pm #

            Thank you Alex received with the same grace with which it was delivered.

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