Last season’s top two Leicester City and Arsenal face off at the King Power Stadium this weekend (5.30pm Saturday, BT Sport 1).
The Foxes were beaten by newly promoted Hull City in their opening encounter last Saturday afternoon, when Riyad Mahrez’s penalty was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat. It was a rather lacklustre performance from the champions, who were unable to get their favoured counter-attacking game going and looked vulnerable at the back throughout. N’Golo Kante’s energy, stamina and drive was sorely missed in the middle of the park. Jamie Vardy (pictured) and Mahrez had off-days up top and on the right flank respectively.
Claudio Ranieri will be looking for an improvement from his side this weekend. While this is a difficult match on paper, the fact that Leicester are taking on a big team like Arsenal could actually work in their favour. The Gunners are likely to dominate possession, push high up the pitch and leave plenty of space for the hosts to hit them on the break.
Arsenal also began the new campaign badly, with Liverpool running out 4-3 winners in a thrilling clash last Sunday. Arsene Wenger’s charges actually started the game well and were deserving of the lead given to them by Theo Walcott, but their complete collapse in the second half was an extremely worrying sign going forward.
The Frenchman was heavily criticised for leaving Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny out of his matchday squad. The absence of the latter meant that the inexperienced duo of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers had to be deployed in the heart of the backline against a top-four rival. That Xhaka and Holding are the only new additions has irritated the fans further, and Arsenal will need to respond with an improved performance and positive result at the King Power Stadium to prevent those supporters becoming even more critical of Wenger, the board and the team.
Leicester have no injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s encounter, with Robert Huth available again after completing his suspension against Hull and Papy Mendy back with the squad following the birth of his child. Shinji Okazaki could also come into the starting XI after impressing as a substitute at the KCOM Stadium, but Demarai Gray is likely to be given the nod ahead of Marc Albrighton once again.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon the services of Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Alex Iwobi (thigh), Gabriel Paulista (ankle), Per Mertesacker (knee), Carl Jenkinson (knee) and Danny Welbeck (knee). Ozil, Giroud and Koscileny are all expected to come into the team after getting another week of full training under their belts. Giroud’s return will see Alexis Sanchez move back out wide, with Xhaka in line to earn his first start in the centre of the Gunners’ midfield.
Arsenal were one of only two teams to defeat Leicester in the Premier League last year, and our preview’s verdict is that it could be worth backing them to do so again on Saturday. This will probably be a much tighter game than when the Gunners beat Ranieri’s men 5-2 in September 2015, but the visitors’ added quality could make all the difference.
A 2-1 away victory looks to be the best option from a correct scoreline point of view. The returning Giroud is a sensible choice for the game’s first scorer. Despite not being a world-class centre-forward, he has still found the back of the net on 30 occasions in 65 Premier League appearances in the last two seasons.