Happy Friday folks. Fourth plays host to fifth in the Premier League tomorrow, as we travel to Leicester City looking to get our title challenge back on track after last Saturday’s referee-inspired robbery in west London cost us three valuable points.
We should be fresh, having made ten changes for the mid-week win at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup and I’m expecting Arsene Wenger to make nearly as many alterations again for the game at the King Power stadium, with only Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey and one of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini keeping their place from Wednesday night’s starting line-up.
Francis Coquelin may start training tomorrow and was due for a scan today on the knee he injured at Stamford Bridge according to Arsene Wenger, but the ‘slight bone bruising’ is not thought to be too serious, and he should only be out for the short-term. Let’s hope we’re right with our early prognosis for once and ‘short-term’ doesn’t morph into ‘many months’ the next time we hear from Arsene, because frankly, I don’t think I could handle that emotionally after Jack and Welbz.
The fact that Coquelin misses the trip to Leicester does leave the boss with a selection dilemma in central midfield though – does he reward Mathieu Flamini’s man-of-the-match, two-goal display against Spurs with a rare league start tomorrow? Or does he pick Mikel Arteta to be our most deep-lying midfielder? Factor in the availability of Santi Cazorla after he served a one-match ban and the pairing he’ll pick in central midfield is far from easy to guess.
I can’t see us playing Ramsey and Cazorla as a pair if I’m honest, and Arteta with Cazorla didn’t seem to work at all against Dinamo Zagreb. Cazorla would have to play from the right or be dropped if Arsene went with Arteta-Ramsey and I don’t think I like that scenario at all. So if I was pressed, a Cazorla-Flamini combo would probably be my choice, even if I can’t recall them ever being deployed as the central duo in the past. That said, any two from Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey and Cazorla is possible I suppose, so as always, we’ll have to wait and see. He may even reuse Arteta-Flamini – only Arsene knows.
Elsewhere in the team though, normal selection service should resume. I think we’ll see Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott all regain their starting places. Gabriel serves a one-match ban for improper conduct after it was confirmed by the FA today, so he misses out and Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all still side-lined through injury for a good while yet of course.
As for Leicester, they’ve built on their strong end to last season and come flying out of the blocks to secure 12 points from their opening six games under new manager Claudio Ranieri. One of the features of their stellar start has been going a goal or two down only to come storming back later on in games, so if we take the lead tomorrow, we’ll have to be wary of becoming complacent. Anything other than an 8-0 lead going into second half stoppage time and I’ll be as nervous as Jose Mourinho in a meeting with Roman Abramovich after his latest club-embarrassing outburst.
Arsene discussed the Foxes’ form at his pre-match press conference today, highlighting the emergence of pacy forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, praising their recruitment and discussing his past meetings with Ranieri, when the Italian was manager of Chelsea over ten years ago. He said:
They had a very strong finish last year. They finished with seven wins in the final part of the season. They scouted very well and the emergence of players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy makes them always dangerous. They brought in N’Golo Kante and I think they have done a very good job. They made 10 changes on Tuesday night against West Ham who made only three, and they had just beaten Manchester City away from home. They beat West Ham and that shows that they have a massive squad. Against Claudio it was difficult because when he left Chelsea, he built the team that was so successful at the start. I remember them finishing second in the league with Ranieri and the team was upcoming with young players like John Terry and Frank Lampard who were the players that contributed to the success of Chelsea. I’ve followed his career because I have a big respect for Claudio Ranieri. He’s a great manager and a great man as well. Ranieri is Italian, they love clean sheets in Italy and they love to defend well. We would love to defend well against Leicester but also to attack well.
Hopefully, we’ll manage to do both tomorrow and go one better than last season’s draw at Leicester and pick up all three points. The Foxes will no doubt be full of confidence and in Mahrez, they have a winger who can twist a defender’s blood with his feints and turns of direction, so we’ll have to find some of our very best form to get a good result, keeping it tight at the back, and with a little luck, finally clicking as an attacking force, something I don’t think we’ve managed so far this season if I’m honest.