“Who is it this week?” – A preview of Arsenal vs Leicester City

It’s finally here! Football is back on Friday night as Arsenal and Leicester City contest the first game of the new Premier League season!

Here’s my look at Arsenal the Opening Day in the Premier League era.

At 7:45pm (UK time) on Friday, Arsenal face Leicester City.

The Managers

Arsenal

  • Arsene Wenger on season expectations: “We have to do more. The target is very difficult to set. You can interview seven or eight managers who say they want to win the Premier League. Let’s focus on ourselves. How strong are the other teams? I don’t know, it’s hard to predict.”
  • On Oxlade-Chamberlain: “I think he had in his career some bad moments with small injuries. Last year he was much more stable. I think he is hugely talented and is on the way up. The potential is there. He is very conscious of his quality. I believe he will be a very great player.”
  • On David Ospina: “It was not easy [to convince him to stay]. But he will get the number of games as well. The fight with Petr Cech is quite open. The battle is not won definitely. Anyway, we play other competitions.”

Leicester City

  • Craig Shakespeare on Arsenal: “They’re the FA Cup winners and Community Shield winners and they’ve got tremendous strength in depth so they’ll always be up there. [They have made] good additions to the quality they already have there.”
  • On Leicester’s poor record at Arsenal (no PL wins at Arsenal): “There’s always a first time. It would be nice to think it would be Friday night.”
  • On the season getting underway: “We’ve had pre-season and I’m not a massive fan of it. You want the first game and that’s when real football starts. I think because it is the first game, [the squad] is chomping at the bit to get started.”

Team News

Arsenal

  • Alexis Sanchez is definitely out with an abdominal strain. The Chilean caught it on Sunday in training and, according to the boss, “he’s out for, er, a while…”
  • Mesut Ozil is supposedly fit and available to start against Leicester after an ankle problem. Aaron Ramsey is also in contention to feature.
  • Wenger said in his presser that “we have plenty of uncertainties about players who didn’t play against Chelsea”. Per Mertesacker is counted in that group after the cut he suffered during the Community Shield. Laurent Koscielny is also suspended as a result of his red card in the final game of last season.

Leicester City

  • New signing Kelechi Iheanacho is fit to make his competitive debut for Leicester on Friday. The Nigerian has recovered from a toe injury picked up in pre-season.
  • Fellow new boy Vicente Iborra is not so lucky. He injured his groin in training and could be out for up to two weeks.
  • The Foxes will also be without Danny Drinkwater and Islam Slimani but Robert Huth and Papy Mendy could return in time to feature in their squad on Friday night.

Premier League Head-to-Head

  • P 22 W 14 D 7 L 1 F 48 A 18
  • Arsenal have been pretty dominant against Leicester in the Premier League era. The Gunners haven’t lost in the League to Leicester since their very first PL meeting in November 1994.
  • Leicester have never won away to Arsenal in the Premier League. They’ve earned one solitary Premier League point in 11 trips to Arsenal – that came back in February 1995.
  • Arsenal are currently on a 10-match winning streak at home against Leicester in the League, which is their joint-longest home winning streak against a single opponent (joint with 10 wins vs Everton from Jan. 1997 to Sept. 2005).
  • The Gunners have recorded some big wins at home to Leicester in the past. There was a 5-0 in 1999, a 6-1 in 2000 and a 4-0 in 2001. Two of those routs featured hat-tricks from Frenchmen – Nicolas Anelka in ’99 and Thierry Henry in ’00.
AnelkaLeicester
Patrick Vieira congratulates Nicolas Anelka on his hat-trick vs Leicester in 1999
  • This will be the second time Arsenal have faced Leicester on the opening day of the season, having done so on the first weekend of the 1999-00 campaign. Arsenal won that day thanks to a late own goal from Frank Sinclair.
  • Since Leicester’s promotion back into the top flight in 2014, they’ve played (and lost) three times at the Emirates. The referee tends to be busy in this fixture, with 20 cards handed out across those three games. Leicester’s Danny Simpson saw red in February 2016.
  • Before that, it had been almost 15 years since the last red card in this fixture. Both Patrick Vieira and Dennis Wise were sent off at Highbury in August 2001.
VieiraWise
Patrick Vieira and Dennis Wise going nose to forehead back in 2001

What happened last time?

  • The last time Leicester visited Arsenal was at the tail end of last season. Arsenal were in desperate need of some points in the chase for Top Four. The visitors were going through a decent enough spell under new boss Shakespeare. It ended up being a fairly tetchy affair.
  • The Foxes were stubborn and resolute in their defending but Alexis had come close when he hit the crossbar. It was in the last 10 minutes of the match where we find all the talking points.
  • Leicester defender Yohan Benalouane was fortunate not to see red after planting his studs into the base of Olivier Giroud’s back as they contested a high ball. The Arsenal players were furious that there wasn’t a more serious punishment.
  • With five minutes left, a breakthrough. Nacho Monreal’s half-volley from the edge of the box hit Robert Huth on the chest and went beyond the keeper. It was a massive relief and a big moment for us – victory that night meant Arsenal had won consecutive League matches for the first time since January.
Nacho
Nacho celebrates the Huth own goal back in April
  • It was the incident at the end of the game that we’ll all remember. Christian Fuchs directed a throw-in towards the head of Alexis Sanchez from point-blank range, after the Chilean had been standing a bit too close in an attempt to put off his opponent. Alexis belatedly went down holding his face (despite the ball hitting his shoulder) and was greeted with a yellow card when he got back to his feet. Though he arguably achieved what he had set out to do in running down the clock at such a late stage in the game.

Friday Night Lights

  • This will be the first time the Premier League has kicked off on a Friday, though it’s not the first time Arsenal have played on a Friday in the League.
  • The Gunners have played eight Friday matches in the Premier League – and we’re unbeaten with seven wins and one draw.
  • Not surprisingly, the majority of our previous Friday matches came during the busy Christmas/New Year period of a season where fixture lists and calendars don’t usually see eye-to-eye. Five of the eight Friday games took place in December.
  • The three exceptions all occurred in the same season – 2003-04. We played Newcastle United under lights at Highbury in September of that season before going up against Leeds and Liverpool on consecutive Fridays in April 2004. The Gunners won all three.
HenryVLiverpool
Thierry Henry after his great solo goal vs Liverpool in April 2004
  • The Leeds and Liverpool games both featured hat-tricks from Thierry Henry. The Frenchman even went one better by getting four against Leeds. Robert Pires got “the other goal” in both matches.
  • Interestingly, the very first time Arsenal played on a Friday in the Premier League era was against Leicester City on Boxing Day in 1997. The Gunners won it 2-1, thanks to a Steve Walsh own goal.
  • All but one of Arsenal’s Friday night games have been home matches. The exception is also the only draw amongst them – Arsenal and Aston Villa played out a 2-2 draw at Villa Park in 2008. 
  • So we’re unbeaten on Friday nights in the Premier League, we’ve got a 100% record in home Friday night matches and we played four games on Fridays during the historic 2003-04 campaign? We should always play on a Friday!!
OxSmirk
You know it makes sense!

How about some goals?

  • Arsenal tend to win when Leicester come to town. To win, we need goals…
  • 2015-16: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester: Oh, what could have been. Leicester were defying all sorts of logic with their form that season. Arsenal were the best of the rest at the time. Spurs put on some pressure and came third in a two-horse race. But this day could, probably should, have led to greater things. Theo Walcott got our equaliser before Danny Welbeck scored a winning goal that still gives me chills despite it not leading to much in the end.
  • 2014-15: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester: The Gunners bounced back from a NLD defeat a couple of days earlier to beat a Leicester side struggling at the foot of the table. Laurent Koscielny got the opener from an Ozil corner. Theo Walcott then scored a rebound from an Ozil shot. The visitors got one back in the second half but Arsenal held on for all three points.
  • 2003-04: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester: The Arsenal secured a place in the history books by rounding off an unbeaten season with a win over Leicester at Highbury. The first half couldn’t have been more off-script, with former Gunner Paul Dickov putting the Foxes in front. But what came in the second was just about as perfect as you can get. Thierry Henry converts a penalty, on his way to a Golden Boot. Then a Dennis Bergkamp assist gave the captain, Patrick Vieira, the opportunity to put Arsenal in front. It was perfect. Arsenal were Champions.
  • 2000-01: Arsenal 6-1 Leicester: Arsenal run riot on Boxing Day in 2000. Thierry Henry helped himself to a hat-trick as the Gunners secured their biggest ever Premier League win over Leicester.
  • 1997-98: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester: Worth having a look at this for the spectacular own goal from Steve Walsh alone. Although David Seaman’s dribble out of trouble and then back into trouble was something quite spectacular too…

And that’s that…

The time is almost upon us. Football is back on Friday night and wherever you are, you’ve got to be excited. New season, new signings, same old hopes and aspirations. No doubt the players will be up for it. Getting off to a good start would be terrific. Winning the opening game hasn’t been our thing in recent seasons but here’s hoping we change that on Friday evening.

I’ll be back soon with a preview to match number two: our annual trek towards the fires of Mount Doom comes a little early this season.

Thanks for reading!

giroudwave
Until next time…
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