MX23RW : Thursday, January 24 13:50:12
Aug 11, 2017 at 7.45pm UK at ​Emirates Stadium
Attendance: 59,387
LeicesterLeicester City
Lacazette (2'), Welbeck (45'), Ramsey (83'), Giroud (85')
FT(HT: 2-2)
Okazaki (5'), Vardy (29', 56')

Preview: Arsenal vs. Leicester City

Sports Mole previews the opening fixture of the 2017-18 Premier League season between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium.

The 2017-18 Premier League campaign gets underway at the Emirates Stadium on Friday night as two past champions in Arsenal and Leicester City lock horns.

After surviving the growing calls to step aside in the second half of last season, the pressure is now on Arsene Wenger to finally end the Gunners' long wait for a top-flight crown, while Leicester will themselves be hoping for a smoother journey after briefly flirting with relegation last time out.


Arsenal fans hold up 'Wenger Out' signs during the Premier League clash with Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on April 17, 2017© SilverHub

For the first time in more than two decades, Arsenal head into a new campaign without Champions League football to contend with. For many that was reason enough to dispense with Wenger during the summer, but the Frenchman again survived and put pen to paper on a two-year deal.

It is hoped that, with the speculation now over for another couple of seasons, the fanbase can get back to cheering on the players rather than focusing on the manager, as the constant hounding and #WengerOut displays took prominence for large parts of 2016-17.

Arsenal inevitably finished the season with a sparkle, winning nine of their last 10 games in all competitions to claw to within a whisker of maintaining their impressive record of finishing in the top four, while also lifting the FA Cup for the third time in four seasons.

Even that was not enough for many; Aaron Ramsey's injury-time winner against league champions Chelsea at Wembley Stadium in May merely papered over the cracks and gave Wenger more footing to justify why he remains the right man to take the North London outfit forward.

The bottom line for Arsenal is that, while they may only have finished one point off Liverpool in fourth thanks to their strong finish, rivals Chelsea were a whopping 18 points better off. The hope for supporters now is that the change in formation, which brought about those nine wins from 10, can finally bring the good times back.

The early signs are certainly positive, as the holding midfielders and wing-backs both thrived in the 3-4-3 formation, taking that into last weekend's Community Shield triumph over Chelsea to continue their winning run at the national stadium.

After the nadir that was the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace in April, Wenger was left with little choice but to rejig as he went with three at the back for the first time in two decades and perhaps saved his job in the process, as hard as that is to believe for many.

The arrival of a proven striker in Alexandre Lacazette, the scorer of 91 goals in four Ligue 1 campaigns, as well as a solid wing-back option in Sead Kolasinac, has given the long-suffering Arsenal fans further reason to restore some positivity heading into the new campaign.

As ever when it comes to the Gunners, though, all that positivity could come crashing down in an instant, having lost three and drawn two of their last six opening-day fixtures. A similar slow start on Friday and the groundhog day cycle may well begin all over again.

Recent form: WWLWLW

Leicester City

Craig Shakespeare watches on during the Premier League game between Leicester City and Bournemouth on May 21, 2017© SilverHub

Unproven he may be, but the appointment of Craig Shakespeare at the King Power Stadium in February could well have been the difference between Premier League football and life in the Championship for Leicester.

Make no mistake about it - the Foxes were well on their way to joining Manchester City by claiming the unenviable record of going down as champions, if not for the impressive work of Shakespeare to completely galvanise the players that he had got to know so well during his time as assistant.

Leicester had lost five in a row without scoring when the decision was taken to sack Ranieri - a decision that was met with widespread disgust, despite the clear nature of the Foxes' plight towards the second tier of English football.

Shakespeare kicked things off with a 3-1 win over Liverpool, seeing his men produce a display that neutrals had become accustomed to the season prior when storming to the title, before racking up a further four Prem victories on the spin.

That made the ex-England assistant the first British boss to win each of his first five Prem games, while also galvanising his troops to victory over Sevilla to then become just the third Englishman to take charge of a Champions League quarter-final tie, which the East Midlanders would go on to lose against a stubborn Atletico Madrid.

The key to his success? Simply reverting to the basics, going with a 4-4-2 formation and choosing 10 of the 11 regulars from the season prior, with the only absentee being N'Golo Kante following his move to Chelsea.

After flirting with relegation Leicester would go on to finish in a comfortable 12th place, though they did stutter as the campaign reached its latter stages and ended with two wins from eight, perhaps being guilty of taking their foot off the gas once all but safe.

Boosted by the signings of Harry Maguire, Kelechi Iheanacho and Vicente Iborra for a combined fee of £52.5m, plus Eldin Jakupovic and George Thomas to add some squad depth, the target for Shakespeare will now be to finish in the top half of the division.

A tough start across their first four games will not help, taking in trips to Arsenal and Manchester United on top of their home tie with Chelsea, but if they can sustain their form from the final three months of last season then the stats show that they are on course to finish as high as seventh.

Recent form: LWDLLW

Team News

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez during the Premier League match against Manchester City on April 2, 2017© SilverHub

Arsenal will be without star man Alexis Sanchez for the next fortnight due to an abdominal issue, although if Wenger has his way then the Chilean has certainly not played his final game for the club.

Laurent Koscielny will sit out the opener due to a suspension carried over from last term, while fellow defender Gabriel Paulista is nursing a knee complaint.

Elsewhere, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey are expected to recover from knocks, as is Per Mertesacker, but Shkodran Mustafi and Mesut Ozil lack match fitness after their prolonged summer breaks.

In terms of the visitors, Shakespeare has vowed to play wantaway winger Riyad Mahrez - the subject of interest from Roma and Inter Milan, as well as Friday night opponents Arsenal - as he remains 'fully committed' to the club.

New recruits Iheanacho and Maguire are likely to fit straight in, but fellow newbie Iborra is out for a couple of weeks with a groin strain.

Danny Drinkwater, linked with a switch to Chelsea during the summer months, is another who will play no part at the Emirates Stadium due to a thigh injury picked up in pre-season.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Monreal, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Ramsey; Welbeck, Lacazette, Iwobi

Leicester City possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, Amartey, Gray; Iheanacho, Vardy

Head To Head

The two sides have met on 22 previous occasions in the Premier League, with the Gunners losing just one of those - a 2-1 reverse at Filbert Street in November 1994.

Arsenal have lost two of the last 33 encounters in all competitions, in fact, racking up 10 home league wins on the bounce for their best-such record against a single opponent.

A late Robert Huth own goal settled the most recent encounter here, with the Foxes going down 1-0 four months ago.

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We say: Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City

For the first time in the 129-year history of the English top flight, the action begins on a Friday night with this tussle between two past champions. The opening-day omens suggest that Arsenal will slip up on home soil, though Leicester just cannot seem to get a break against the Gunners and will likely find life tough in North London.

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George Thomas of Coventry City U21 in action during the U21 Professional Development League 2 North match between Coventry City U21 and Nottingham Forest U21 at Sixfields Stadium on March 7, 2014 in Northampton, England.
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