Monday, April 22, 2024

Leicester preview : Europa League draw : Saliba speaks

It’s another Premier League trip to the midlands today, as we take on Leicester City.

After a crazy game at Villa Park last week, I think Mikel Arteta will be looking for greater control from his team today. That could come via improved performance, but he might also make a change or two to facilitate that.

In his press conference yesterday, he sounded hopeful that Thomas Partey would be available, and if he’s fit and there’s no risk of aggravating anything, I’d choose him today over Jorginho. The January signing did well last week (as Lewis noted in his tactics column), but Partey just gives us a little bit more – even if he’s never smashed a shot in off the back of Emi Martinez’s head.

He also spoke about Fabio Vieira, and how hard he’s pushing for a start:

“He is starting to give me big headaches because I see every single day what he is capable of doing. He is a tremendous player, he now understands exactly what we want and physically he is in a condition to compete at the right level in this league.

“He brings qualities that we don’t have in the squad. Very eager to give him more minutes.”

Whether an away game is the right time do it remains to be seen, but despite the fact he’s been pretty consistent with his team selection this season, Arteta does like an occasional surprise. We saw more of this when the team itself wasn’t as settled as it is now, but with the likes of Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe, Leandro Trossard and Jorginho adding depth to the squad, it gives him options to do something that perhaps the opposition won’t expect.

As for today’s opponents, Leicester have – it’s fair to say – been erratic this season. I watched them last week against Man Utd and they were sensational in the opening part of the game, and but for David de Gea making some brilliant saves it could have been a very different game. Then they went on and lost 3-0.

There is quality in their attack, but midfield is not what it was, and defensively it’s a very mixed bag. Having spoken about increased efficiency in the final third before the Villa game, Arteta will be keen to bang that drum again. Regardless of who starts, we have the players to cause this Leicester backline a lot of problems.

As I said to Phil on the preview podcast on Patreon, these are the fixtures that you have to win if you’re a serious title contender. Which isn’t to take anything for granted, but having dug ourselves out of a hole last weekend and had a little help from Nottingham Forest, we have to take charge of things again.

Fingers crossed!

Elsewhere, the draw for the Europa League Round of 16 took place yesterday, and we’ll face Sporting Lisbon. We last played them in this competition in the group stage 2018, and a Danny Welbeck goal gave us a 1-0 win away after a 0-0 draw at home.

This is the kind of fixture where you can look to start Vieira, Smith Rowe etc, and maybe by then you can start to ease Gabriel Jesus back into action. I know some people aren’t into the Europa League this season, and I understand why, but it could well be useful for us. There’s also a reunion with Hector Bellerin who never got a chance to say a proper goodbye, so that might be nice.

William Saliba did a big interview with the official site, and after the promising news regarding Bukayo Saka’s contract, there were some very encouraging quotes from him about his future. He says:

I want to win everything possible here, and to put the club back on the very top. I want to win every title.

Let’s hope his future is sorted too, but when you see the likes of Saka, Martinelli and Big Gabriel (his defensive partner) commit to new deals, it must have an influence on your decision making. He’s making all the right noises, now get him a pen!

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. As ever we’ll have live blog coverage of the game today – which is not on TV in the UK – as well as all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

Catch you later for the game. Come on Arsenal!

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