It’s always hard to gauge just how a promoted team will play. They sometimes come up with a style that was successful in the Championship and discover that it just doesn’t work in the Premier League. A team that becomes used to winning and topping the table suddenly has to deal with defeats and a scrap at the wrong end. Adjustments have to be made and are not always successful. On the other hand, some promoted teams do really well and produce a fair few surprise results. Often mentioned as favourites for relegation, these sides can hit mid-table heights, even reaching the top half.
Leicester came up with an impressive record. Only two teams have been promoted with more points than their tally of a 102 since the formation of the Premier League. Reading managed a whopping 106 points in 2005/06. They followed it up with an impressive effort in the Premiership as they finished 8th. Sunderland clocked 105 in 1998/99 to gain promotion, and they too got into the top half with a 7th place finish the following season in the top flight. Leicester haven’t played enough games for us to judge just where they will finish but they’ve done enough, with a draw against Everton and a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge, to show they’re not out of place in the big money league.
Their style of play doesn’t seem too complicated. Reliance on hard work, organization, discipline, and concentration can pay dividends. They’ve the second lowest possession (37%) and the fourth lowest pass completion rate (74.3%). The season is just two games old but I don’t expect them to change these stats drastically. Arsenal controlling the ball and the hosts trying to control vital spaces in the central areas of their half should be the norm on Sunday.
It that sense this game should be similar to the one against Palace, but just a little harder as this is away from home. Arsenal will again have to break a deep seated defence while protecting themselves from transitions and set-pieces.
Fast passing, runs in behind, combination play, clinical finishing…I think we’ve covered such topics often enough over the last few years as this is a typical Premier League game against a fighting opponent from the lower half of the table.
Defensive issues are well known too. Palace scored with their first shot on target. Everton did the same. Wenger’s side have conceded 3 goals from 5 shots on target in two League games. Gifting opponents goal scoring opportunities has long been the bane of Arsenal.
Leicester have some pace and trickery on the wings and play with two forwards who possess useful physical qualities, so they can be a threat on counter-attacks, from long balls, and set-pieces. Absolutely nothing new. It’s going to boil down to number of mistakes made and the degree of luck Arsenal have.
Wenger has quite a few options with his team selection. I’d really like to see something like,
Szczesny – Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Flamini, Özil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Alexis, AOC.
Wilshere produced some interesting performances when he played on the right flank last season. He can be more influential when cutting in because the body shape and angle would help him pick a wider range of passes. Such a role would also keep him closer to the dangerous attacking areas with fewer defensive responsibilities. Özil back in his best role obviously helps the team. Oxlade-Chamberlain should have more shooting opportunities when cutting in from the left onto his right foot. He also has a decent enough left foot to go on the outside and deliver balls into the box. Sanchez could move into the wider areas on the right when Wilshere cuts in and he can constantly look to get in behind with two or three players in good positions to pick passes. It seems to me this system can get the best out of a lot of players.
That said, I won’t be surprised if Wenger stays with Wilshere and Ramsey in the middle, particularly if he sees that as a combination for the long term that needs to be given time to gel. This would most probably put Özil back on the left. It might be worthwhile swapping the German and AOC even if Wenger wants to play Jack and Aaron through the centre.
Arsenal have been playing every three days and rotating players can help. Chambers for one of the defenders and Rosicky for one of the midfielders are definitely worth considering.
Last season Arsenal had a very good away record against teams in the bottom half as they picked up 28 points out of a possible 30. The only draw came away to West Brom relatively early in the season. Gaining points in the big games will only matter if the Gunners can replicate this dominance over the weaker sides. Anything less than three points will be a significant setback.Follow @goonerdesi