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Matchday Preview: Leicester vs Arsenal

English Premier League

20th August 2016, 17:30 pm BST

King Power Stadium, Leicester

We take a trip to the defending Premier League champions on Saturday with both sides looking to pick up their first points of the season.

The 2016-17 season has got off to a disappointing start – defeat at home to Liverpool, a number of injuries, players not back from Euro 2016 and a lack of signings from Arsene Wenger.

A massive blow already for our Premier League title chances and one immediately has to think we could be aiming to win the FA Cup once more this season.  I’m already thinking about betting on the English FA Cup at William Hill – UK’s top bookmaker whilst the odds are high and the chances are realistically better than winning the league.

Following Gabriel Paulista’s injury in our final pre-season game, adding to the already-injured Per Mertesacker, it was expected the boss would bring in another experienced centre-back before the season opener.  Instead, Wenger went with Calum Chambers and Rob Holding which ended up with Liverpool scoring four goals.

Even still we are yet to announce a deal for a new centre-back but could welcome back Laurent Koscielny this weekend – an absolute must if we’re to hold out the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Ahmed Musa.

Mesut Ozil is also due back and would be a straight swap for Aaron Ramsey who played the number 10 role last weekend before picking up an injury that is going to rule him out for a month.

We’re also hoping to welcome back Olivier Giroud up front.  Alexis Sanchez failed to test Simon Mignolet once when he was forced into that role last Sunday but the French striker would allow Sanchez to move back into his left wing role.  Alex Iwobi started there last weekend and he is too sidelined for a month now.

The defending champions themselves were beaten 2-1 at newly-promoted Hull City despite a debatable penalty decision that went in their favour at the start of the second half.

Leicester looked like they sorely missed N’Golo Kante in the middle of the park, and although we scored seven goals in our two fixtures in picking up six points last season, this still comes as a massive boost for us.  It should allow the likes of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Granit Xhaka to find time on the ball and create chances from the middle of the park.

Team News

We’re hopeful Laurent Koscielny will make his return to partner either Rob Holding or Calum Chambers in the middle of our defence.  Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista are both for a while.  Wenger is running out of time to sign another centre-back in time for kick off.

Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi will both miss at least two games.  Mesut Ozil should replace the Welsh international whilst Alexis Sanchez can drop back into the left wing role if Olivier Giroud returns up front.

Leicester City have a fully fit squad to choose from.

Predicted Lineups

Arsenal:   Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka; Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Olivier Giroud

Leicester City: Kasper Schmeichel; Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs; Riyad Mahrez, Andy King, Danny Drinkwater, Demarai Gray; Ahmed Musa, Jamie Vardy

Key Stats

4 – Alexis Sanchez scored four goals in his two games versus the champions last season.

6 – Arsenal were the only team to take six points from Leicester City last season.

19 – Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 19 matches versus Leicester (W13, D6).

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2016-05-16_00.38.40

Arsenal, looking ahead

Arsenal have been steadily paving their way to a first place finish in the English Premiership. Over the past 5 years we’ve watched them climb the ladder, and they are now in second position. The last time they won the Premier League was back in 2004. Could it be theirs again in 2017? Fans and rivals alike are keen to see just what happens next with the most popular sport in the world and one of its best and most popular teams.

Tomas Rosicky has seen his final season with the team, as has captain Mikel Arteta. Mathieu Flamini is departing too. Arsenal management are now bringing in the new – in droves! Included in the sweep of players they’re seeking is Alvaro Morata from Juventus.

With Danny Welbeck out with a knee injury for a possible nine months, the hunt for a new forward is on… and it is believed the bid has been placed by Wenger for Morata at £51 million. The Spaniard is proving popular, and Arsenal aren’t the only ones after him. Chelsea, as well as Manchester United and Liverpool, are after him. But Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, in his pursuit of final glory in 2017 has bid even more for this striker than he did for midfielder Mesut Ozil’s cost of £42.4 million.

Will Real Madrid trigger the buy-back clause in Morata’s contract and make a tidy profit from this sale? It’s looking likely. It was only in 2014 that Morata joined Juventus. That was for €20 million. He since gathered two Serie A wins, and this season scored 11 goals for 46 appearances. It’s no wonder so many are after him.

Other new team members the Gunners are seeking include French midfielder N’Golo Kante. The 25-year-old will be Leicester’s loss if he makes the move. Arsenal have made an offer for Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko too, with an offer of £10 million. Kieran Tierney from Scotland’s Celtic could be another possible feather in Arsenal’s cap.

Arsenal are going all out for a stellar Premier League finish for 2017. With a new and stronger line up, both fans and rivals will be watching the team very closely. And for fans, why not take a look at Arsenal wallpapers on offer for free.

LINKS:

https://www.hityah.com/

http://www.football-wallpapers.com/clubs/arsenal-wallpapers

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4th title in 20 years?

Arsenal: Mid-season Review

We’ve reached the New Year, and behold the Gunners are alone atop the Premier League standings. Through the first 20 EPL matches, Arsenal has managed an impressive 42 points via a 13-3-4 record and a plus-16 goal differential that ranks third best in the league. The Gunners have performed consistently well in a season that’s seen a great deal of unsteady play and inconsistency across the league, and many are coming around to the idea that 2016 could mean the club’s best shot at a domestic title in years.

The Top Performers

Frankly, the whole squad, when healthy, has performed as well as or better than expected. That’s the sort of play you need to stay atop the EPL tables, and for once a group of Gunners that has habitually underachieved in recent years is displaying world-class form. But naturally a few performances stand out above the rest. Petr Cech has been a revelation in goal, for instance, and it’s hard to ignore Olivier Giroud finding his groove as a consistent scoring threat (in Champions League play as well). Cazorla, Sanchez and Monreal have all stood out at times when healthy as well. But two players in particular have been absolutely superb, and both made one high profile starting XI so far (put together in November). Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil have stabilized the back line and midfield, respectively, and are probably the most responsible for the club’s form.

The Opportunity At Hand

You can’t be in a better position than top of the table, but when looking at Arsenal’s chance to stay keep leading the league, there are some pretty favourable circumstances to consider. Most notably, the league’s traditional heavyweights are struggling for the most part. Heading into this season it was noted that in 2014/15, reigning champions Chelsea were only the fourth biggest spenders in the league, and that none of the top-three spenders finished in the top-two of the league. In other words, money and influence didn’t buy the 2014/15 title, and that trend is being emphasized even more this year. Of the top net spenders in the last five summers, Manchester City is the only club ranked in the top-five that’s also a top-five club this year. Arsenal is only the sixth highest spender in that time, whereas Leicester City (second in the league) isn’t in the top-15, and Tottenham Hotspur (fourth) is the 13th highest spender. Heavyweight clubs known to throw money around like Chelsea, Man Utd., and Liverpool are all outside the top four. The underwhelming performance of clubs like these ought to give Arsenal a distinct advantage.

The Immediate Outlook

In the coming weeks there could be changes to the club, as Arsene Wenger has hinted at multiple transfer possibilities for the January window. Specifically it seems as if Wenger is after midfield depth in the form of Basel’s Mohamed Elneny and/or PSG’s Adrien Rabiot, the latter of whom would make for a pretty significant signing. Gunners supporters will debate whether such moves are necessary when the club is playing so efficiently, but it’s also worth noting that the schedule in the coming weeks is quite difficult. Matches at Liverpool, at Stoke City, and against a possibly resurgent Chelsea club loom, which means Wenger could want help sooner rather than later with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and of course Jack Wilshere all still nursing injuries.

Overall, this is the best shape Arsenal’s been in heading into a new year in quite some time. But only time will tell if this season’s Gunners can keep their current roll going.

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FA Cup Champions

FA Cup, and the season gone by

Alright alright.. So the last couple of days (or has it been three days, or perhaps four!?) have been rather wild for me. I have gone bonkers over pints of beer, have duped a taxi guy into believing that I could pay for a nightly sojourn around the city, and mocked my Other-Than-Arsenal-Football-Friends over and over again, so much so that most of them have promised not to talk to me for a week at the very least. I do not remember much in the way of the chronology of events, but all I can tell you is that I had a good time.

Of course you could ask me if I needed to celebrate so hard, after all it is only an FA Cup we won. A lot of people think it is a legitimate question. Well, to those people, I would like to say: FA Cup is the oldest football trophy in the world and will always remain a hugely coveted honour; if it was that easy to win, Doncaster Rovers would be winning it every year (no offence, Donny!), so I like it very much that Arsenal have won it for a record dozenth time, and done so in the most emphatic manner too.

By now you must have realized that I am writing through a haze of cheap alcohol induced hangover, and you might consider it uncouth on my part. You might read this and think to yourself, “wait, this does not seem to be the most analytical piece about football!” Well, it isn’t. We’ll leave that to another day.

These few days are just about basking in the splendour of it all; about enjoying the FA Cup final win more than anything else. We have gone through some of the most torrid times as fans of Arsenal Football Club and this win will go some way in obliterating some of those painful memories. The monkey was off our backs last year when we ended our trophy drought, but successfully defending the FA Cup has meant we are not quite ready to make friends with that monkey again.

Yes, it is true this season promised much more. After the FA cup win last year, and with the big-name acquisition of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, there was genuine belief within the camp that this season we could push on to greater things. But after a disappointing start to the campaign, those hopes were all too easily quashed away. With a number of important players out injured, the team seemed unable to build any sort of momentum in the first half of the campaign.

This, coupled with the fact that Chelsea went bazooking past their opponents, meant we had already given up our hopes of fighting for the title before the year was up. The only shining light of a hitherto dismal season was Sanchez, whose goals and assists kept us from turning into itchy pumpkins, who for all I know are not great fans of the beautiful game.

Things appeared bleak. But Arsenal persevered. It took us until the new year to pull off a string of three wins in the Premier League, but we once we did that, we seemed to raise our game up a notch. Emirates was quickly turning into a fortress, at least in the league, while we were playing with a much more defensive balance on the road.

Though we still lost games, those were shaped more in the contours of untimely accidents, rather than familiar fallouts. Players began to come back from injuries. A certain Francis Coquelin was called back from a loan deal prematurely for lack of defensive options. It was around this time that we began our defence of the FA Cup, and after crashing out unceremoniously against Southampton in the League Cup, we made sure that we did not let go of the only realistic possibility of winning a trophy this season.

In the same month, we travelled to the Etihad aiming to conquer the champions in their own backyard. After all the successes of the earlier season, a constant criticism levelled at Arsenal was that we could not win away at the home of one of our rivals. With us struggling with form and consistency, this too seemed like a foregone conclusion. Only it wasn’t. In one of the best defensive performances of the season, Arsenal emerged comfortable 2-0 winners against Manchester City, and unbeknownst to all, the team began to show glimpses of steely resolve and an unyielding attitude to win.

The following month was a rollercoaster ride. While we won most games, we lost the ones that really mattered. We lost at Spuds, quickly followed by an astonishing 1-3 defeat at home to Monaco in the Champions League. For me, personally, this was the lowest point of the season. After having given ourselves hope by a screamer of a goal by Chamberlain having trailed 2-0, we somehow arsenaled our way into conceding the most stupid of goals in the dying minutes of the game; that all but ended Arsenal’s brief love affair with Europe’s elite competition this season.

Wenger has often stated that a team should be judged by its ability to react to defeats, and if this is the true parameter of success, what followed will only bode too well for Arsenal. While most teams would have deflated under such pressure, when Arsenal found the going tough, we became tough. We found a much better balance between attack and defence in the following games, and made ourselves an extremely tough team to beat.

The games that followed were a testament to our newfound tenacity. We went on an eight-game winning run in the league, while also beating United at Old Trafford in the sixth round of the FA Cup, a win that made me slobber with excitement. What a game it was too, and after succumbing to them time and again in the previous seasons, this was surely one of the highlights of the season. We travelled to Monaco soon afterwards, and though we gave a rock solid performance in France, we had just left ourselves with too steep a climb after the debacle of the first game.

April, unlike the poem, did not prove to be the cruellest month. We continued our run, and progressed to the FA Cup final after beating a resolute Reading thanks to a brace by Alexis. Like so many times this season, the Chilean came to our rescue yet again, proving just how important a player he is for the success of this team.

In the Premier League, there wasn’t much left to do, so we let our tempo drop a bit. There was a good chance of finishing second and we probably should have taken it, but it does not hurt as much, knowing we gave our best in the games we dropped points towards the end of the season, most notably against Chelsea and Sunderland.

At the end, we finished third, twelve points off the pace, but not quite that far from the champions as the points table would have you believe. Our performance in the second half of the campaign was not anything short of exceptional and we should make it a good base to start solidly in the Premier League next season.

So, after all the helter-skelter of the last vestiges of the league season, we were back at Wembley, defending the FA Cup with pride and a fair amount of history to make. We played like champions, and I believe you do not need much reminding of what transpired. I especially cherish the Alexis goal, but there were other great moments during and after the game, giving me enough reason (as I am sure it did to all you gooners!) to celebrate like a lumpen loon just out of a provincial asylum.

Before I leave for a quick dosage of lime water to get rid of my post-FA Cup hallucinatory haze, I would like to make a couple of points. First, I think this season was a sign of progress because of the way we dealt with our nerves in some of the biggest games this season. I do not believe all that crap Paul Merson and the others churn out on a regular basis that this Arsenal team cannot deal with pressure, I think they bloody well can. Second, the way we went from a team that looked complete shambles in the first half of the season to being the most in-form team in Europe in the second half, tells its own story. We can adapt, and that, for me, is a sign that we can move on to better things in the seasons to follow.

With a shrewd summer (more on that later!) and no playoffs to take care of, we should look at the next season as a campaign where we can really kick on to the bigger stage. Easier said than done, of course,  but there is no reason that we should not reckon ourselves as a team with great potential, cohesion and spirit, on the verge of greater things.

To hope, to Arsenal, and to the undying belief in us fans, I would like to regurgitate, truly and most deeply: good things come to those who wait!

Till next time then, mates, cheers!

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