Sunday, December 10, 2023

Leicester away – battle of the inconsistents

Early Saturday action today as we travel to the King Power to take on Leicester City.

We know that on their day they can be a very difficult prospect and they have caused us problems in the past. They’ve won their last four consecutive games in all competitions, beating Man Utd and Brentford in the Premier League in recent weeks, so that will tell you what they’re capable of.

However, closer examination shows they’ve won only two of four at home this season, and just two of their last six in the league. Which is to say there’s obvious talent and danger, but also some inconsistency, which is why both sides are level on points right now despite the perception that Leicester might be having a better campaign than us.

With regards Arsenal team news, it looks like there will be a couple of late decisions for Mikel Arteta to make. At the point yesterday when he spoke to the press, Ben White hadn’t trained, still troubled by the illness which forced him off against Leeds during the week. That’s a tricky one, because we’ve seen in recent weeks what he brings to the team and the partnership he’s building with Gabriel. So I reckon the manager will give him every chance, if not I guess it’ll be Rob Holding or Calum Chambers, the former more likely to get the nod than the latter in my opinion.

There has been a lot of focus on White, which is not unexpected given he was a £50m summer signing, but Gabriel has been impressive since his return from the knee injury he picked up in the summer which kept him out of the Brazil Olympic squad. It’s something Arteta was asked about yesterday, responding to questions about the 23 year old’s importance, saying:

“I think he’s been crucial. He came back from a knee injury that meant he missed all of pre-season but he came in a different way. He showed a new maturity, a different level of application. Again, his lifestyle has improved a lot. His language has improved a lot.

“He has all the qualities to be a superb central defender. I’m really pleased with what he’s doing.”

He definitely appears more settled and comfortable after an up and down first season, and interestingly he’s not the first player Arteta has referenced with regards lifestyle changes recently, but crucially improving his language skills will help. We all know about the language of football blah blah blah, but being able to better communicate – on and off the pitch – is really important, especially for a defender.

Meanwhile, there was no positive update on Kieran Tierney, so I’m going to assume he’s out and Nuno Tavares will get another chance today. Beyond that, I think he’ll pick the same team that played so well against Aston Villa, with Alexandre Lacazette in that role behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka either side of him. Martin Odegaard appears to be fit again, but Lacazette will be rewarded for his decent performance last week, while neither Gabriel Martinelli or Nicolas Pepe did enough in midweek to force their way into the starting line-up.

After the Villa game, Arteta spoke about it being a kind of blueprint, and I’m always really cautious about that kind of thing, because it’s incredibly difficult in general, and particularly for a side like this current iteration of Arsenal which is still developing and growing together, to produce that kind of performance week after week. When you talk about it being a blueprint, people will think ‘Just do that!’, and it’s not that easy.

However, while the performance level and the efficacy of the football you play will vary, I think there’s one aspect of it which you can come close to, and that is the commitment and energy with which Arsenal played against Villa. It’s a long time since we’ve seen us play as well as we did last week in consecutive games, and I don’t expect Leicester to be anywhere near as bad as Villa were, but the mindset with which we approached the game can be replicated. Clearly there’s a lot more to it than just putting in the hard yards, but all of those things the tracking back; the organisation; the commitment in the tackle and the press, and to win the second ball when it’s there; are what help you play as well as we did in that 3-1 win.

At the very least, that’s what I want to see today, and if we get that, our chances of coming back home with a good result are greatly increased.

As ever we’ll have live blog coverage for you, as well as all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

Catch you later for the game.

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