Welcome back. Although there’s still nearly a week to go before we welcome league leaders Leicester City to Emirates stadium on Sunday, Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin had a few words to offer on the Foxes when they spoke to the media after yesterday’s win at Bournemouth.
First up it’s the boss, who insisted Claudio Ranieri’s side will go into the game as favourites, but is backing home advantage and the support of the Arsenal fans to help his side come out on top. He said:
[Beating Bournemouth] is very good for the future as we now have a very big game at home against Leicester who are now the favourites for the Premier League,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. [A win] can maybe prepare you in a better condition for the next game. We have a week to prepare for that and I have to think about it. Leicester is a strong side but we are also a strong side. At home with our fans and support, we can do it.
Next to laud Leicester is Ramsey, who’s hoping Arsenal can take the momentum gained from beating Bournemouth into the game against the Premier League’s surprise leaders:
What they (Leicester) have done this season is quite remarkable but we will need to be right on it to get there points. Hopefully the momentum we have we can take into that game and come away with a big victory there as well.
And finally we have our Cockney Catalan, Bellerin, who though admitting the Leicester game is important in the sense that both teams are involved in the title race, also pointed out that every game is crucial in our quest to rack up as many points as possible. He said:
I think for us, every single game is crucial. We need to think game by game, it does not matter [who you play] and you need to get the three points. Obviously it is going to be one of the most important ones but you need to keep playing like that in every game.
It may be a cliche but Sunday’s fixture really is a six-pointer. Win and we reduce the gap to just two, but lose and Leicester restore the eight-point advantage over us they were no doubt celebrating last Saturday night.
I’ve been saying all season Leicester’s form wouldn’t last but as we all know, it has. Not only that, they’re playing like a title-winning team. I watched them win at Manchester City last weekend and it wasn’t just the individual brilliance of players like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante that stood out, it was how impressive they looked structurally and tactically as a team. They didn’t sneak a win against the country’s most expensively-assembled squad, they bullied them, out-played them and rendered them almost riposte-less.
If we talk in terms of spines, then Leicester’s shows no signs of any cracks. Kasper Schmeichel is doing a great job of impersonating his father at his best in goal, Robert Huth, whilst far from the most cultured of centre-halves, looks like the two-time Premier League winner he is, and his partner at the back, Wes Morgan, for me is Sol Campbell-esque in the way he reads danger and defends generally.
Then there’s Kante in midfield, who combines the relentless chasing and harrying of Lassana Diarra, with the front-foot effervescence of Blaise Matuidi, providing the Foxes with an answer for our very own Francis Coqulein in defensive midfield. And of course in Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, they have two of the very best attackers in the league this season.
But despite the indisputable quality of many of their players, Leicester’s team is playing far better than it should be on paper given it’s constituent parts, and that’s down to Ranieri, who I think hasn’t enjoyed nearly the level of praise he deserves.
I mean, just imagine Harry Redknapp or even Jose Mourinho – the press pet that he is – taking an unfashionable club with relatively modest resources and who narrowly avoided relegation last year with largely the same set of players, to the top of the Premier League as we near mid-February.
They’d be knighting Harry or plastering Jose’s face over every front and back cover they could find with a headline like: ‘The most special Specialist in Success that ever lived’.
So I’d just like to take this opportunity to say I think Claudio comes across as a genuinely lovely man, he’ clearly a very experienced and talented manager and I think his Tinkerman tag should now be replaced by something more befitting of his astonishing achievement so far this season.
All that said, it goes without saying I hope we put six past them on Sunday and that they finish runners-up to Arsenal come the end of the campaign.