Arsenal vs Leicester: Fierce Tactical Battle Incoming

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images) /

Arsenal face Leicester City on Sunday in a match that should be a tactical battle from start to finish. How should Arsene Wenger deploy his side?

This year’s EPL title race, though already immensely intriguing, is shaping up to be one of the most memorable ever. Leicester City – relegation favorites only a few months ago – sit atop of the table with 53 points. They are followed by Tottenham (48 points), Arsenal (48 points), and Manchester City (47 points) for the top four. Meanwhile, this weekend has big implications for the title race. Sunday features not only Leicester-Arsenal but also Tottenham-Man City. It’s not very often that the Premier League’s title contenders face off against each other like so on the same day, let alone on the same weekend.

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Shifting the subject back to Arsenal-Leicester, fans and pundits alike should be in for quite some entertainment this Sunday. Leicester is coming off of its title statement, a 3-1 thrashing of Manchester City at the Etihad. Arsenal just defeated Bournemouth away 2-0 in what was the North Londoners’ first EPL win since January 2nd.

It’s really not that clear as to which side is the favorite to take home the maximum three points on Sunday. Leicester is undoubtedly the hotter team, but Arsenal, though in relatively shoddy form, will play hosts to the Foxes and obviously have no lack of proven firepower. Given the arguable evenness in this fixture, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and Leicester manager Claudio Rainieri are likely to have a significant influence on this match.

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So, in the juicy tactical battle that awaits, how should Arsene Wenger deploy his side against the fierce opposition of 1st-place Leicester?

First of all, Leicester City is probably going to want to attack on the counter. Given that Arsenal is likely to take control of this home game with its trademarked possessive style, speed demons Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy will be drooling at the possibility of catching the Arsenal defense – and hopefully for them, the relatively stagnant Per Mertesacker – too far up the pitch. Talk about flashbacks of Arsenal-Monaco at the Emirates nearly a year ago.

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Because of this, Arsene Wenger should seriously consider fighting fire with fire. Given Leicester’s supreme counter attacking ability which was showcased in full during last week’s humiliation of the Citizens – in which the Foxes had 34% of the possession – Le Prof must be willing to sacrifice possession in order to sit back and invite the wide-eyed Leicester into Arsenal territory (

In fact, it’s not like the Gunners can’t be successful on the counter. Some of the Gunners’ best performances this campaign have been facilitated by quick, direct attacks immediately after winning the ball back from anywhere on the pitch. This season’s Manchester United and Bayern Munich wins serve as prime proof of this.

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By sitting back a bit deeper than expected, Arsenal should be able to catch Leicester on the break. At least if Wenger’s men play with the urgency that is arguably lacking too often in North London.

Moreover, if Wenger does elect to deploy his troops in such a way, he has much more reason to make use of his veteran, more trusted center back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker, instead of his more spontaneous pair of late, Koscielny and Gabriel. After all, if the Gunners invite the Foxes’ pressure by sitting back, there will be very little space for Leicester’s runners to make runs in behind. Gabriel’s pace in place of Mertesacker’s shouldn’t be required.

Rainieri has little reason not to use the same lineup that just stole the points from Man City. A more conservative Arsenal lineup should only be susceptible to potent hold up play and crosses, not the runs in behind that Vardy and Mahrez are primarily known for. This is where Mertesacker’s height and undeniable strength come in. The German should not get knocked around or be ‘out-strengthed’ by any of Leicester’s attackers.

Playing more defensively overall and not getting caught too far up the pitch won’t allow Mahrez to do filthy things like this, either:

That brings me to my last point. Leicester is a composed team. No doubting that. The Foxes are tied with Man City for first in the “Goals For” category with 47 goals, and a big reason as to why they’ve been so successful in the attacking third is because of their league-leading 20.3% conversion (of scoring chances) rate ( Because of this, it would make sense for Arsenal to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and try to control possession from start to finish, right?

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Wrong. Yes, Arsenal is bound to concede shots on goal on Sunday if Arsene Wenger aligns Arsenal in the way I have suggested. However, this is where Wenger’s crucial summer signing comes in.

Petr Cech has had a riveting season. He’s managed the most clean sheets in the EPL ( and is arguably head and shoulders above the keepers from England’s top five clubs. Cech has racked up the most saves, saves per goal, and has conceded less goals than Leicester’s keeper, Kasper Schmeichel ( The point is, Cech can handle pressure.

In conclusion, title-chasing Leicester and Arsenal are facing off in what should prove to be a gripping contest. Given the arguable evenness of this fixture, tactics are sure to play a big part in determining Sunday’s possibly title-deciding result.

For Arsene Wenger to give his side the best possible chance to steal the three points from Rainieri’s Foxes, the French boss should deploy his side a little more conservatively than usual, encouraging his Gunners to sit back and prepare themselves to attack on the counter.

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After all, the North Londoners have proven that they are in fact capable of winning games through counter attacks. Moreover, sitting back should force Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to play out of their comfort zones by forcing them to hold up play and challenge for crosses against bigger, stronger players like Per Mertesacker. Giving room for this dynamic duo to run in behind is like playing with fire. Finally, the Gunners have quite a reliable keeper in net. Inviting Leicester into Arsenal’s final third isn’t suicide. It’s letting the Foxes into Cech’s territory, which is not known as a happy or forgiving place for most attackers.