By Rob Kelly
“Leicester have more belief than they had in the first game, but we play at home and we know we are a strong team - I’m confident we can deliver.” - Arsene Wenger
If Sunday’s showdown against Leicester is anything like the corresponding fixture at King Power Stadium back in September, we are in for a Valentine’s Day treat.
The last time the Foxes visited the Emirates, 12 months ago almost to the day, they were rock bottom of the Premier League and almost universally tipped for relegation. Today, they find themselves five points clear at the top and considered favourites to lift the trophy.
It has been an astonishing turnaround, but Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have no time for the romance of their story - despite the day this fixture falls on. All that matters is securing the victory that could take the Gunners to within touching distance of top spot.
“It will be an interesting game because I’m convinced both teams have the quality to create openings and goal chances,” Arsene Wenger told Arsenal Player.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (thigh), Cazorla (knee)Leicester City: Schlupp (hamstring), James (knee)|
“It was welcome to us to rebuild the confidence that we can score goals [against Bournemouth last weekend] because for a while we didn’t, so that is very good. I’m convinced we will go into the game on Sunday with belief and desire and a real team performance.
“I can’t remember [another game as open as the game at Leicester in September]. I said afterwards that they could have scored more and we could have scored more, but since then I think what is remarkable is that they have conceded only 27 goals and we concede 22.
"Both defences have tightened up so it might be completely different on Sunday.
“The history of the Leicester team [this season] is of real confidence and belief and there is the desire to finish at the top. They have more belief than they had in the first game but at Emirates Stadium we play at home and we know we are a strong team.
“I’m confident we can deliver what is needed on Sunday.”
ONE TO WATCH
One of the most pleasing aspects of last weekend’s 2-0 victory at Bournemouth was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to the scoresheet.
The England international had not registered since the Commmunity Shield win against Chelsea back in August, and had struggling for confidence.
However, an assist in the FA Cup win against Burnley was soon followed by a superbly-taken strike at Dean Court and, ahead of his 100th Arsenal appearance, Wenger believes Oxlade-Chamberlain’s confidence is starting to return.
“He got an assist, then he scored and that sometimes opens a light,” the manager said. “I’m convinced that in every career, you have moments where you think ‘I can do that’ and transform your potential into reality.
“I’m convinced that that will give him appetite to score more, to give more assists and to go more in the final third, where he can be deadly.
“You cannot imagine when you look at Alex that he will not score goals. He has power, pace, technique, finishing.
“I believe that only he maybe did not believe enough that he can score. That will convince him and hopefully it’s the start of many more.”
Sunday’s game at the Emirates will see some of Premier League biggest talents go head to head in a game that promises no shortage of drama.
|Arsenal have won 12 and lost none of their last 18 Premier League matches against LeicesterTheo Walcott has scored in both of his Premier League appearances against the FoxesArsenal have won their past eight home Premier League games against Leicester|
Only four players in the top flight have each had a hand in more than 20 goals this season, and three of them - Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Mesut Ozil - will be fighting for supremacy in north London.
The former two have dominated the headlines for Leicester this season, their pace and direct running on the break causing untold problems for defences up and down the country.
It has meant that the form of the Foxes’ defensive shield, N’Golo Kante, has slipped somewhat under the radar - but Wenger has been hugely impressed by the French midfielder’s performances in his first season in England.
“He’s had a remarkable impact on Leicester and also on the Premier League,” the Arsenal manager said. “Now everybody sees him today as one of the dominant figures in defensive midfield. He has done remarkably well.”
Kante’s clash with Ozil could be one to keep your eye on. Many have tried to subdue Arsenal’s creator-in-chief this term, but not many have succeeded.
If Ozil can escape Kante’s attentions, it could prove decisive in this pivotal fixture.
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