Arsenal look to keep pace near the top of the Premier League table Monday when they wrap up Match Day 9 at the Emirates against Leicester City looking for a 10th consecutive victory in all competitions.
The Gunners (6-0-2) need a victory to stay within two points of front-runners and reigning champions Manchester City, and claiming three points in this match would ensure they would be no lower than fourth in the table and ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Arsenal have not reeled off 10 straight wins since Aug. 25-Oct. 23, 2007, ending the season in third place just four points behind champions Manchester United. Despite the run of victories, there is merely quiet confidence and low-key pragmatism with the London side as they continue to take to first-year manager Unai Emery.
“We need to be realistic, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” defender Hector Bellerin told Arsenal’s official website. “There’s loads of things that are changing for us, not just as a team but as a football club so the most important thing is to believe in the way that we want to play. We’re a team now that play from the back, we probably risk it a bit more than before, but for us it is important for our fans and for everyone around us to believe in this idea that we have.
“At the beginning it is going to be harder, but the more we train it, the more we work at it, the better we are going to get at it. For us it is about getting used to the system, be a team, be competitive and have this winning mentality, take it to the next level and become the team that the manager has in mind.”
Emery has a relatively healthy squad, but he will need to make choices at centre back and keeper for his starting XI. Sokratis returned from Greece with an ankle injury suffered in their 2-0 loss to Finland in a friendly, which means Rob Holding could be in partnership with Shkodran Mustafi in central defence.
Between the sticks, Petr Cech is nearing a return to full fitness after being sidelined the last two matches with a hamstring injury. Summer signing Bernd Leno allowed one goal in three halves of action in league play and has backstopped Arsenal to three wins in Europa League and Carabao Cup play.
Mesut Ozil is expected to be available after missing the 5-1 victory over Fulham before the international break due to back spasms, and the hamstring injury that prevented Danny Welbeck from joining England has cleared. While healthy, midfielder Aaron Ramsey is likely to come off the bench as his future – his contract expires at season’s end – continues to be a subject being put off.
“My focus is on every match. The football, the future is tomorrow,” Emery said when asked about having Ramsey beyond this season. “My reason, I explain to every player and to you also, I want the mentality for the next match. Individual things are not for me to speak about now.”
Leicester City (4-0-4) have yet to deal with prosperity when presented to them, staggering into the break on a 2-1 home loss to Everton as Wes Morgan was given his marching orders after a his second booking in the 63rd minute. Since it was his second red card of the young season, the Jamaica international will miss this match and the Foxes’ contest at home versus West Ham next Saturday.
Jonny Evans will again step into the breach in central defence to pair with Harry Maguire. He along with James Maddison were with England during the international break, with the midfielder all smiles after his maiden call-up to the Three Lions.
“It’s been brilliant since I signed a few months ago, I’ve settled in so quickly and I feel at home here,” the 21-year-old told LCFC.com. “There’s so much competition for places here, it’s the Premier League, we’ve got such a talented squad. We’ve got so many good players in that dressing room.
“Hopefully I can keep my form high and my performances good and we can carry it out for the rest of the season.”
Maddison has three goals and two assists in all competitions for Leicester as he, Maguire, Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho have accounted for 10 of Leicester’s 18 overall goals. Vardy in particular has been a nuisance to Arsenal, scoring six goals in the last six meetings between the sides and recording a brace in the most recent visit to the Emirates – a wild 4-3 Arsenal victory to open the 2017-18 league season in which the hosts rallied with two goals in the final seven minutes.
Leicester City ended a marathon 22-match winless streak (0-7-15) to Arsenal in the most recent meeting, a 3-1 victory at King Power Stadium as Vardy’s penalty on 76 minutes snapped a tie after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal in the 53rd minute canceled out a first-half tally by Iheanacho.
The Foxes have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League era, taking just two draws in 13 matches and losing 11 on the trot in league play at Highbury and the Emirates after a 1-1 draw in 1995. Leicester City are winless in 25 matches (0-6-19) at Arsenal since a 2-0 victory in Division One in 1973.
Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are prohibitive 8/15 favourites to make it a “perfect 10” with another victory, while the odds of Leicester City getting the rare point in north London are 10/3. The longshot, naturally, is the Foxes returning to the Midlands with three points from this trip for the first time in 45 years at 9/2.
Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with a Gunners win and more than 2.5 goals returning 21/20 odds. A low-scoring Arsenal win checks in at 4/1, with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw behind that offering at 11/2. For those who fancy the Foxes, there are 7/1 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 14/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.
Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette lead the line for first goal-scorers at 7/2 odds, followed by Welbeck (4/1) and then Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6/1). Ever persistent, Vardy leads the options among Leicester City at 6/1 as well, while Maddison lurks further back at 10/1 after Ozil (15/2) and Alex Iwobi (17/2).
Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck a close third at 23/20. Mkhitaryan is a surprising fourth option at 7/4, narrowly ahead of Vardy (9/5). For those who think the Foxes could nick a goal off a corner kick, Maguire offers a decent return at 15/2 odds.
If this game was being played in the Midlands, an argument can be made the Foxes have the personnel to take this game to Arsenal. But with the hoodoo the Gunners have over Leicester City in London, coupled with their current form — even with the international break — it’s a far tougher sell.
Arsenal are starting to coalesce into a team who are grater than the sum of their parts. In that regard, Emery has done a fantastic job getting players to buy in, which has accelerated the timetable of their in-season success. Of course, they are also in a patch of schedule where they are not playing the cream of the Premier League, but each victory is another building block to be examined and learned from.
The Gunners are the side Leicester City can achieve to be and record a top-half finish. They have talent sprinkled throughout their attack in the precocious Maddison, the relentless Vardy and a pair of interesting assets on the wing in Iheanacho and Ricardo Pereira, whom manager Claude Puel keeps shuttling back and forth on the right with Daniel Amartey.
Keeper Kasper Schmeichel gives them a chance to steal a victory, though that task is somewhat tougher this time around without Morgan, even with a capable replacement in the well-respected veteran Evans. The international break may gave the Foxes the chance to run with Arsenal early, but if the Gunners go through their gears quickly in their return, another victory should be in the offering.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Leicester City 1.