This Sunday brings two fixtures that could well decide who finishes where in the Premier League’s top four come the end of May.
The Gunners are just one of two sides to have beaten the Foxes in a league match this season, along with Liverpool. But that fixture was all the way back in September and Leicester have since developed into the Premier League’s most feared opposition, carving up defences on a weekly basis to claim a five-point lead at the division’s summit.
That being said, Arsenal are well aware that their title chances are slowly evaporating and that yet another win against another top side, after beating Man City last weekend, will only fortify Leicester’s position as champions in waiting.
So this unexpected title clash could well be decided by who dominates the key individual battles. With that in mind, here are FIVE Football Fancast view as the most important.
No Premier League defence has successfully dealt with Jamie Vardy’s power-running and resulting potency on the counter-attack this season, but Arsenal could have the man for the job in centre-back Laurent Koscielny.
Indeed, the France international may not be the most powerful of defenders but he’s effective in the air and one of the world’s best on the deck, boasting exceptional speed for a centre-half and an expert execution of well-timed tackles.
That being said, Vardy proved with that wonder-goal against Liverpool that he’s not just a kick-and-chase merchant and the majority of his finishing this season has been to an incredibly high standard, so even a yard of space near the box could be all he needs to find the net.
Likewise, if the England international isolates the battlecruiser-paced Per Mertesacker he’s certain to win any footrace, so Koscielny must provide cover for his less mobile centre-back partner at all times.
No Premier League player has completed more ball-winning actions than Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante this season, who has averaged a rather incredible 4.1 tackles and 4.1 interceptions per match and resultantly emerged as the best pound-for-pound signing of summer 2015.
On the other hand, Mesut Ozil is the most potent creator in the division at the moment, claiming 16 assists in 23 outings whilst conjuring up a whopping 4.3 chances per match, and has proved a particularly tricky customer due to his nomadic role in Arsenal’s midfield.
But Kante has the legs to keep up with the German international’s stealthy movement around the middle-to-final-third and there’s another side to the Leicester midfielder’s game that Arsenal must consider; his ability to turn defence into attack with surging runs on the counter.
Indeed, the Frenchman has become a real driving force for Leicester and he’s incredibly tough to stop at full speed. Although Ozil won’t feel stopping Kante is really his duty, one can already envisage him spinning out of a challenge with Arsenal’s No.10 and marauding up the pitch.
Likewise, if the Gunners are to come out on top this weekend, every player will have to put in a real shift.
With Riyad Mahrez and Alexis Sanchez set to line up on the same flank this Sunday, we could see a battle of trickery, pace and netting prowess erupt down the wing.
Indeed, Sanchez was the Premier League’s stand-out winger-forward last term and Mahrez has gone on to take that role this season, notching up 14 goals and ten assists in 24 appearances – including that superb individual effort against Manchester City last weekend.
In comparison, the Chile international’s campaign has been a little underwhelming, in no small part due to his involvement in the Copa America and subsequent injury problems. But we all know how talented the former Barcelona star is and he put in an exceptional performance against Southampton two weekends ago despite failing to find the net.
Neither will be overly concerned with stopping the other on Sunday – a job primarily bound to the full-backs. But there will be plenty of skirmishes down that side of the pitch and whoever can escape them most frequently will have the biggest chance to impact the scoreline.
Aaron Ramsey and Danny Drinkwater both perform a similar role for their respective sides as the balancing act in the middle of the park. Indeed, Drinkwater looks to contribute offensively and defensively whilst launching attacks with his long-range passing. Ramsey, similarly, offers Arsenal box-to-box energy, goals and assists.
Something tells me the Welshman will be a little more cautious than usual on Sunday to ensure Arsenal’s defence isn’t left exposed on the counter-attack. But old habits die hard and we all know about Ramsey’s lust for arriving late into the box.
Drinkwater, however, is of a likeminded nature. Although he’s scored just once this season, he always seems to pop up in the final third just when Leicester need him, redistributing the ball to one of their more potent goal threats.
But Leicester’s two-man midfield forces him to sit back for large periods of the game. So this key battle could well be decided by which central midfielder balances their attacking and defensive duties best and senses when is the right time to get forward.
Not too long ago, it seemed Olivier Giroud would silence his critics and fire Arsenal to the Premier League title. But since that scintillating brace against Liverpool at the start of January, the Frenchman has failed to find the net in five appearances across all competitions.
The old adage of ‘he’s due a goal’ certainly comes to mind, especially considering he played relatively well against Southampton and Bournemouth and was only brought off against Chelsea for tactical reasons after Per Mertesacker’s red card.
Unfortunately for the 6 foot 4 target man, however, his natural style largely plays to the strengths of Leicester City’s centre-back pairing and most particularly Robert Huth. Indeed, the towering German and partner Wes Morgan have never been the quickest but they’re old-fashioned centre-halves who love a challenge in the air.
Furthermore, Huth is enjoying arguably the best form of his career at the moment, seeing just four goals go past him in his last ten appearances whilst bagging a match-winning brace against Manchester City last weekend.
The 31-year-old is a master of the basics and won’t let Giroud dominate him physically, so the Arsenal striker needs to be at the top of his game on Sunday.