11 August 2017

Mahrez prepares his Arsenal audition as Arsène looks on...

And so it begins. From winning the FA Cup to winning the Community Shield defeating Chelsea each time we now embark on a Prem campaign with a bit of momentum, if not confidence. To open against Leicester only exacerbates the nerves, and, when you look at the 2017/18 Premier League betting odds, you'll notice that Arsenal aren't considered challengers. Most punters pick us to finish fifth, no higher. Yes, it's been nice to add Lacazette and Kolašinac, but there's been more talk around Mahrez joining Arsenal than about the actual opening of the season. So it goes. Will this be Mahrez's audition? There is still time enough in the transfer-window to consummate. For now, though, the more-pressing matter is to start the campaign properly. With that in mind, nothing less than a proper battering of the Foxes will do.

While we wait on the rumours swirling around Mahrez, we would do well to notice the business that Leicester have done to bolster their squad. They've added Kelechi Iheanacho from Man City for a fee of some £25m and Vicente Iborra from Sevilla for £13m. While these might not strike fear into the hearts of many, these moves do suggest that the Foxes under Craig Shakespeare hope to better last season's mid-table finish (12th, but three points away from 8th, for those wondering). Of course, they're a long way from reclaiming anything resembling their Prem-winning form of of 2015-16, but they're still uncomfortably close to nipping at Arsenal's heels.

 At our end, there are reasons enough for optimism. The additions of Lacazette and Kolašinac have strengthened key areas, and the fact that each has opened his account, more or less, has to bolster the squad's confidence. Without making too much of it, to have beaten Chelsea to win both the FA Cup and the Community Shield augurs well. We might as well add in the Emirates Cup as well, even if winning that does come with a bit of an asterisk. Three trophies in as many competitions is more than one can shake a stick at, after all.

At a more-significant level,the squad has looked well-drilled and determined. Whether this means we can compete with the likes of Man City or Chelsea is one question. It should mean that we can dispatch the likes of Leicester and others. As to how we'll do so, we do have to contend with the confirmed absences of Cazorla, Alexis, and Koscielny, and the possible absences of Mertesacker, Ramsey, Coquelin, Gabriel, and Ozil. Even still, we should have enough to start the season off on the right note.

Lacazette has looked lively if not lethal, and the preseason has given him a chance to bed in. His movement off the ball and his finishing have tantalized us enough already—even his strike off the woodwork against Chelsea in the Community Shield has offered something to savor. Kolašinac seems like a revelation, all the more so when we consider that we got him on a free. Yes, his goal against Chelsea was stirring, but don't let that overshadow his tenacity and savvy. Between the two of them and the rest of the squad, we should have more than enough to best Leicester. Whether that's enough to contend in the Prem is another question.

LAST THREE
  • Arsenal 1-0 Leicester (26.04.2017) 
  • Leicester 0-0 Arsenal (20.08.2016) 
  • Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (14.02.2016) 
FACTFILE
  • Leicester have not won in 19 of their last 21 away matches in the Prem. 
  • Arsenal have not lost to Leicester since 19 January 2000. 
  • Arsenal have won their last seven home-matches agains Leicester. 
INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS
  • Cazorla and Alexis are injured, and Koscielny serves the second of a three-match ban after a red-card against Everton 
  • Mertesacker, Ramsey, Gabriel, Mustafi, Özil, and Coquelin all face late fitness-tests. 
POSSIBLE STARTING XI
  • Čech; Gibbs, Monreal, Mustafi; Kolašinac,Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Iwobi, Lacazette, Giroud. Expect Leicester to sit back and defend, hoping to hit on a counter.
PREDICTION
  • With Iheanacho, Vardy, and Mahrez, Leicester look ambitious enough to try to get forward to score, but expect them to sit back and try to hit on counters.
  • Even without Özil or Ramsey in the XI, we should have enough firepower to put a few past Schmeichel.
  • Arsenal 2-0 Leicester.