Arsenal-Leicester City Preview
There are different types of desperation and different levels of desperation, both of which will be on display Saturday when embattled Unai Emery brings Arsenal to King Power Stadium to face a marauding Leicester City squad in a top-five showdown.
The Gunners (4-5-2) are in fifth, six points back of third-place Leicester City (7-2-2), but the critics continue to round the second-year manager and the London side as their season has the potential to go off the rails in stunning fashion.
Rumours have been rampant Jose Mourinho could be tabbed as a replacement for Emery during the international break should Arsenal lose this match, while former midfielder and current Manchester City assistant Mikael Arteta is also among the names being bandied about to take over should it all go pear-shaped in the Midlands.
In addition to the uneven on-field performances -- the most recent a 1-1 draw Wednesday at Portuguese side Vitoria that was a fourth consecutive split of the points -- Emery has been pilloried for his handling of the captain's armband. Having originally given it to Granit Xhaka, the decision backfired in spectacular fashion when Xhaka had an on-pitch meltdown after being subbed off a fortnight ago, cursing the fans as he stormed down the tunnel.
The Switzerland international defended himself in the matchday programme of the following contest, a 1-1 draw versus Wolverhampton in which he was dropped from the 18-man squad by Emery to try and defuse the situation. The Gunners boss this week stripped Xhaka of the captaincy and named striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang talisman Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Arsenal should have maintained their 100 percent record in group play after Shkodran Mustafi headed home Nicolas Pepe's cross in the 80th minute, only for a gaffe by keeper Emiliano Martinez resulting in an equaliser for Vitoria in stoppage time. Mustafi's goal was the lone shot on target as Arsenal are still all but assured of passage to the knockout round - they are four points clear with two matches remaining - but the result added another headache to a team clearly in need of avoiding them.
"Everybody is trying to stay positive, as positive as they can," defender Kieran Tierney told the club's official website. "We know there is a lot going on that people are talking about. But we just need to forget about all that and concentrate on us, concentrate on bouncing back and concentrate on giving the fans something to cheer about. In football it doesn't always go your way, but we have got another chance on Saturday."
Emery likely will be without midfielder Dani Ceballos for this contest as the Real Madrid loanee was forced of early in the second half with a hamstring injury. Mesut Ozil is the most likely replacement, with the former Germany international back in Emery's good graces following starts versus Liverpool and Wolves last week.
Though hard to label a third-place club "desperate," Leicester City are seeking the stamp of legitimacy that comes with toppling one of the Big Six. The Foxes have shown themselves to be the best of the rest with 19 of a possible 21 points against the other 14 top-flight clubs but have taken just four in their four high-end matches (1-1-2). A victory in this match, however disjointed the Gunners may be, would be a key pelt in their bid for European play for the first time since 2016 following their stunning Premier League title in the spring of that year.
"I'm just taking each game as it comes," striker Jamie Vardy told LCFC.com. "I'm getting a lot of chances fed to me from my team-mates and at the minute I'm taking them, so I'll knuckle down this week during training, get a bit more practice in and look forward to the game next week."
Vardy leads the Premier League with 10 goals, and his strike rate against the Big Six is well-documented. The former England international has 31 goals in 59 such appearances since the start of the 2014-15 season and has been a terror versus Arsenal with eight goals in nine career matchups.
That includes a late brace in the most recent meeting a 3-0 rout at King Power in April last term. Vardy capped the scoring in last weekend's 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace, sealing the win after centre back Caglar Soyuncu scored his first goal with the club just before the hour.
Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers reported a fully fit squad for the match as left back Ben Chilwell and midfielder James Maddison were tabbed for the England international squad for next week's European qualifiers. Maddison caused a stir during the last international break when he withdrew from the squad due to illness and was pictured in a casino while the Three Lions lost to the Czech Republic.
"We sent him home. It wasn't right for him to travel with the rest of the group," England manager Gareth Southgate told the Leicestershire Mercury in defence of Maddison. "So any suggestion he chose to go home because he wanted to go out is unfair. It's not a great decision he took (to visit a casino).
"As an England player you have a different profile. Everyone has a camera-phone and knows they can make money selling pictures. We are supporting him because we picked him. He has to fight for a place like everyone else."
The Foxes have won their last two home matches in the series but are 3-7-16 in the Premier League era versus Arsenal.
Updated November 8, 2019