If Arsenal and Leicester manage a draw then both teams will have earned just one point from their first two matches and according to Sporting Intelligence no team has won the League with fewer than two points in their first two matches in 23 years. It could very well be a case that the season is over for both Arsenal and Leicester before September.
Both Sporting Intelligence and I recognize that the stat above is one of those silly stats that get splashed all over the television before games. These are trend stats and they appeal to sports fans for various reasons. But they shouldn’t be trusted at all, ever.
These are the same types of stats that you will hear broadcasters say in the middle of games, things like “Arsenal have never dropped points from a match after taking a four-goal lead in the first half.” That was a real stat from the 4-4 draw against Newcastle. A match in which Arsenal did, in fact, drop points.
The reality for both Arsenal and Leicester is that there will be 36 matches left to play and plenty of time for both teams to mount a serious title challenge. Again, I need to stress here that I am not having a jab at Sporting Intelligence, they say the exact same thing I just said. Just because the trend has gone that way for 23 consecutive years doesn’t mean that it will continue.
I have put off predicting the League finish this season because the transfer window is still open. It is difficult to predict how teams will do if the teams aren’t settled and I don’t want to have people come back to me in 2 weeks and complain that I have changed my predictions after the transfer window closes. A great example is that if Arsenal take Lukaku off Everton that would dramatically alter both teams’ projected finishes.
As it stands right now, I have Man U winning the League. That is down to the fact that they have Zlatan, Mkhitaryan, and Pogba and that those three push them from a solid team to a team with potential to win the League. I’m not basing that prediction off any armchair psychology, nor off the fact that they have Mou Mou woup as manager, just down to the fact that Zlatan scores buckets of goals. If Arsenal were to sign a 20 goal striker, or if Arsenal were to manufacture one from Theo Walcott, they should easily finish top four and possibly challenge for the title. But, like I said, that prediction has to wait until Arsenal finally close their transfer window.
As for the match tomorrow, Arsenal have the streak stats in their favor. They were the only team to beat Leicester home and away last season and they have held a “hoodoo” over them for something like 19 matches. And just like the stat that “no team has won the League blah blah” the previous record between the two teams is meaningless.
The most important consideration is that Arsenal are missing their League-leading playmaker in Mesut Özil and their leading scorer in Olivier Giroud. Much has been made of the makeshift back four and the four goals they shipped in the opening day defeat to Liverpool. The punditocracy are clamoring for Wenger to start Koscielny but everyone who watched that match saw that the real problem was that the midfield didn’t close down space and watched insipidly as Liverpool passed the ball around with ease.
Leicester will pose a different problem than Liverpool, however.
Leicester will try to goad Arsenal into a match that will play right into their hands. Without Olivier Giroud or really any aerial threat, Leicester should be able to sit comfortably back and defend their box. And since they will start with Vardy and with PFA Player of the Year Mahrez both of whom thrive on counter attacking football we know what Leicester’s plan will be from the start.
Since Arsenal will have no problems getting the ball forward but will need extra cover for the large spaces over the top, I expect Coquelin to start. Beside Coquelin, I think Wenger will install Xhaka and Cazorla for their ball control and ability to pick passes. Up front, Arsenal will need a tricky dribbler to help unlock space and I expect Ox
or Iwobi to start on the right with Alexis on the left and Walcott as the forward.
I doubt we will see a repeat of the 5-2 of last season. That match was hallmarked by a lack of control by either team. It was a lot of fun and I would love to see these two teams go at each other again but I think that match, more than any other, radically changed Ranieri’s approach to these games. Instead, we should see a much more cagey fixture like the 2-1 win from February. That match featured a late winner from Welbeck, who won’t be available tomorrow.
The good news for Arsenal supporters is that both Walcott and Alexis feasted on Leicester’s defense last season and both players will be available for tomorrow’s match. If Arsenal’s midfielders, Xhaka and Cazorla, can find them between the lines, they could get all three points. If not, it’s going to be a long day for Arsenal.