Arsenal vs. Leicester City – 12:00pm local time on Sunday, February 14, 2016 at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal – $1.75 at CrownBet.com
Draw – $3.85 at CrownBet
Leicester – $4.60 at www.Sportsbet.com
Arsenal – 3rd
Leicester – 1st
Premier League form
Arsenal – D D L D W
Leicester – W D W W W
Last five EPL meetings
Leicester 2-5 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester
Leicester 1-1 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester
Leicester 1-1 Arsenal
Only two teams have beaten Leicester City in the English Premier League this season, and one of them happens to be Arsenal.
The giants of North London smashed in five at King Power Stadium back in September, with Alexis Sanchez snaring a hat-trick.
Many thought that would be the last we’d hear of Leicester, who had started well but surely couldn’t keep up that sort of pace.
Fast forward to February, and it’s the underdogs of the East Midlands who hold the most unlikely of advantages in the race for the 2015-16 Premier League title.
Claudio Ranieri’s men have powered out to a five-point lead in the EPL standings, thus defying the almost unanimous belief that they would crumble in a heap after Christmas.
Last weekend they made their biggest statement yet, silencing both the doubters and the Eastlands crowd with a dominant 3-1 victory over Manchester City.
Meanwhile, Arsenal have only just returned to the winner’s sheet with their 2-0 result at Bournemouth.
That ended an alarming streak of four consecutive matches without a win, which saw them plummet from first to fourth in the space of a fortnight.
Alan Smith, the former Arsenal and Leicester striker, believes this weekend’s clash at the Emirates could make or break the Gunners’ title bid.
“Arsenal have got to make sure they’re at it for the big occasions, and this is a huge occasion,” Smith told Sky Sports.
“It could be a defining moment of their season. If they can come through it, then they’re going to have great confidence for the reminder of the season.
“Bournemouth was a must-win game after those four matches. They had lost their confidence, belief and momentum, so that’s got them back on track and a win on Sunday would get them more firmly back on track.”
Smith cited Arsenal’s inability to beat a struggling Chelsea side either home or away this season as cause for concern.
“The jury is still out,” he said.
“They have a really poor record in terms of staying at the top at the end of seasons. Part of that is the squad has not been strong enough, and it’s partly down to mental weakness too.
“There has been a psychological barrier and we’ve seen that twice against Chelsea this season. They just can’t get over the line against their London rivals.
“As a wider issue – are they mentally strong enough now to push on, to beat Leicester on Sunday, and to push on again during the difficult away games to come? Are they strong enough to get their talent across?
“That’s still the big question for me.”
Arsenal team news
Francis Coquelin sat on the bench against Bournemouth and Southampton, but the young Frenchman is tipped to start this Sunday as Arsene Wenger looks to reinforce his midfield against Leicester’s counterattacking weapons.
Mathieu Flamini is the most likely candidate to make way.
Per Mertesacker is available, but it is expected Wenger will stick with the more agile Gabriel Paulista alongside Laurent Koscielny in the heart of defence.
Danny Welbeck is nearing a return from injury and could make the bench, while Santi Cazorla (knee), Tomas Rosicky (thigh) and Jack Wilshere (foot) remain in the recovery room.
Possible Arsenal XI: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez, Giroud.
Leicester team news
Ranieri, once known as the Tinkerman, has now gone five consecutive league matches without making a single alteration to his starting 11.
The last Premier League club to name the same side for six straight games was Arsenal in May last year.
With no midweek cup commitments or European ties looming, the Foxes should be able to field the same 11 which has seen off Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham in recent weeks.
The Midlanders’ only injury absentees are Jeff Schlupp and Matty James, who has missed the whole season to date after tearing his ACL last May.
Possible Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy.
– Leicester to win ($4.60 at Sportsbet)
– Both teams to score ($1.77 at CrownBet)
– Correct score 2-1 ($17 at Bet365)
Arsenal have everything going for them on paper.
The Gunners boast a dominant record against Leicester, having won 12, drawn six and lost only one – way back in 1994 – out of 19 clashes in the Premier League.
They also made minced meat of the Foxes when they met earlier this season.
But if the 2015-16 EPL title was decided on paper, Leicester wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are today.
They are the form team in the competition, and last week’s display at Man City was arguably their best showing of the season to date.
With a settled starting lineup and no expectations to hinder them, they look capable of anything.
Arsenal will have to produce their very best to hold them off, and we haven’t seen that for many weeks now.
First goalscorer betting
Aaron Ramsey ($9 at CrownBet)
After a hot holiday period, the Welshman’s goal-getting exploits have rather tapered off in recent times. The Gunners should have a lot of possession at home, so expect midfielders like Ramsey to be on the lookout for opportunities in and around the box.
Alexis Sanchez ($6 at Sportsbet)
The Chilean had quite a bit of fun last time he faced the Foxes, hitting home a terrific treble as the Gunners ran out 5-2 winners at the King Power. He will see plenty of the ball in the final third, as Arsenal love to construct their attacks down his flank.
Jamie Vardy ($7 at William Hill)
It’s testament to Leicester’s all-round game that they managed three goals at Man City without Vardy getting on the scoresheet. But the England striker is looking as sharp as ever and will be a constant threat on the counterattack at the Emirates.
Roberth Huth ($31 at CrownBet)
The big German stole the show last weekend, leaving his markers for dead to grab two of Leicester’s three goals. He has now scored the opener on two occasions this season, having also nabbed the only goal in the win at Spurs. A cheeky value bet, to be sure.
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