The 2017/2018 English Premier League season kicks off later today as Arsenal host 2016 winners, Leicester City, at the Emirates stadium.
Arsene Wenger’s side finished outside the top four for the first time last season since the Frenchman became manager of the North London club twenty years ago.
However, the Gunners defeated Chelsea at Wembley to emerge winners of the Emirates FA cup, for a record 13th time, making amends for what was an otherwise disappointing season which saw calls for Wenger’s resignation intensify.
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But despite calls from aggrieved fans, Wenger was handed a two-year contract extension, and will be expected to end the club’s long wait for a PL title, which they last achieved in 2004.
For 2016 champions, Leicester City, this would be manager, Craig Shakespeare’s first full season in charge of the Foxes, having taken over from former manager, Claudio Ranieri, who was sacked following a disappointing title defence which saw the side languishing in relegation waters.
Leicester visit an Arsenal side who they are yet to defeat, after a run stretching over twenty-one matches.
Nevertheless, the Foxes might be buoyed by the fact they face a Wenger team that has lost three of their last four opening day matches in the league.
With Laurent Koscienly suspended for tonight’s match, who else will be missing from the Gunners’ squad to face Leicester?
Star forward, Alexis Sanchez is ‘definitely’ out of the match, according to manager, Wenger. Sanchez, who missed the club’s preseason, is out with an abdominal strain.
German playmaker, Mesut Ozil, Skodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker, and Aaron Ramsey are all doubtful for the game, with Wenger saying he’s ‘uncertain’ they’d play a part, despite returning to training, while Santi Cazorla and Gabriel Paulista remain long-term absentees.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, Gunners fans, as new signings, Sead Kolasinac, and Alexandre Lacazette, who arrived for a club record fee from Lyon, are expected to make their PL debuts, after they were heavily involved in preseason.
For Leicester, new signing, Vincente Iborra, who joined the former champions from Spainish outfit, Sevilla, is out with a groin injury, while Chelsea target, Danny Drinkwater is also out after suffering a thigh problem.
Riyad Mahrez, who has been linked with a move to Arsenal and Roma, and wants to leave the Foxes but won’t be allowed to go “until we get a reasonable offer, is expected to feature.
Nigerian forward, Kelechi Iheanacho, a £25million signing from Man City, is in line for his PL debut for the Foxes, having recovered from an injury he picked up during their 2-1 preseason win over Bundesliga side, Borussia Monchengladbach.
Also in line for his debut is fellow new arrival, Harry Maguire, who joined the club from relegated team, Hull City.
Since switching to a back three, which has seen the club lose just once in 11 matches, Arsenal have looked quite good in preseason, including in their defeat of city rivals, Chelsea, who they beat 4-1 on penalties to win the Community Shield at Wembley.
The Gunners were without key players like Sanchez, Ozil, and defender, Koscielny, but were able to handle the champions, whom they also defeated enroute their 13th FA Cup title in May.
For Leicester, they will be looking to do better than their narrow 1-0 defeat at the Emirates last season, and buoyed by some new additions like Iheanacho, Maguire, Shakespeare’s men will be looking for a better finish come May, 2018.
Arsenal’s manager, Wenger: “We are well prepared and ready for a fight, and of course ambitious as well.
“I think we have a good level of physical preparation. All our players got a decent number of minutes of good competition, so overall the preparation of the squad looks good.
“Then we need to transform the quality of the preparation into points and that is of course a pragmatic view, but what matters is we win the next game and start in a strong way, which we didn’t do last year. That’s what we want to achieve this season.”
Leicester City manager, Craig Shakespeare had this to say about star man, Mahrez; “I can only speak on how I’ve found him coming back. He has been focused and driven.
“He hasn’t given me one problem where I’ve had to pull him to the side and say, ‘Oi, pull your finger out.’
“Until we a get a bid that’s suitable for Leicester then he stays, and if he stays focused then he’ll be considered for selection.
“All things come into your mind. But what you want, and from what I’ve seen from him, is a focus and professional attitude.”
- Both teams have met 22 times, with host Arsenal losing just once, in 1994.
- Arsenal have won their last ten matches against Leicester City, their best winning streak against any side.
- When both sides last met, only a Robert Huth owngoal decided the match.
- This is the first time that the Pl season will begin on a Friday in its 129 year history.
- Arsenal have never lost on a Friday in the PL, while Leicester have never won on this day.
- Arsenal have amassed more red cards (6) than any other team in the PL on the opening day of the campaign.
- The Gunners have only won one of their last seven opening day fixtures in the PL.
Arsenal XI [3-4-2-1]: Cech; Holding; Mustafi; Monreal; Belerin; Xhaka; El-Neny; Kolasinac; Welbeck; Iwobi; Lacazette.
Leicester City XI [4-4-1-1]: Schmeichel; Simpson; Maguire; Morgan; Fuchs; Mahrez; Ndidi; Amartey; Gray; Iheanacho; Vardy
Given Arsenal’s incredible record against their visitors today, it’s difficult to put this past the Gunners, as I expect them to keep their run going. They’ve had a good preparation heading into tonight’s encounter. For Leicester, they’d be inspired to change finally get one past their host, but this game has an Arsenal win written all over it.
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester.
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