Already reeling from an opening defeat that brought supporter frustration at a familiar lack of summer signings boiling to the surface, Arsenal on Saturday will come face-to-face with two of the most prominent players to have escaped its clutches. A 4-3 defeat at home to Liverpool on Sunday, a match in which at one point in the second half the Gunners were 4-1 down, saw the team booed off the pitch at the Emirates Stadium.
It was the third time in four seasons that Arsenal has suffered a defeat at the Emirates Stadium on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, prompting a frustrated response from a crowd that has seen their team fail to win the title since 2004. On each previous occasion, though, Arsenal has bounced back with a win in the very next game before going on to take its customary position in the top four at the end of the season. And manager Arsene Wenger remains as adamant as ever that his approach, and his caution in the transfer market, is the right way to go.
“I’m not surprised by anything anymore,” he said at his press conference ahead of Sunday’s clash with Leicester at King Power stadium. “I can understand every human reaction. Of course [the supporters] are disappointed. I am disappointed. I believe in our society people are more demanding, they are more intelligent, better informed, have stronger opinions and thats what you have to deal with. But that just means you have to still be strong enough to do the things that you feel are right.”
The trip to Leicester promises to be particularly painful, if not for Wenger then for the supporters. Arsenal had a bid accepted for Leicester striker Jamie Vardy early in the summer as it sought to improve upon its unconvincing options up front. Vardy, though, ultimately opted to stay with the Premier League champions, a decision for which Wenger admits he was given no explanation.
“No. Look, you have to respect the decisions of people and that’s part of it and I think in every transfer market you have one or two who have decisions to make and you respect them. You should ask him that question, I cannot answer for him.”
Arsenal was also heavily linked with another of Leicester’s title-winning stars, Riyad Mahrez, amid reports that the winger was eager to leave. Wenger did not deny the interest when asked on Thursday and described the Algerian as “outstanding.” However, just a day earlier Mahrez had committed his future to Leicester by signing a new four-year contract.
“I’m happy to continue my adventure with Leicester City,” Mahrez told LCFCTV. “I live day after day. I’ve achieved good things with this club. All the players have said congratulations. It’s good – they are happy and it is good to keep all the players in the team.
“It’s important because last season we achieved the best thing we could in England. We’ve done an amazing season and it was important to keep the players to keep the same spirit as well.”
Of the championship-winning side, Leicester has only lost N’Golo Kante this summer. But the midfielder’s absence was glaringly apparent as Leicester went down to a shock 2-1 defeat at relegation-favorites Hull City on the opening day of the season. While Kante is a loss Leicester will have to learn to deal with, manager Claudio Ranieri will have Robert Huth back available on Saturday after the defender completed his suspension. And the Italian is confident his team can bounce back, even against an Arsenal side that was the only team to do the double over the title winners last season.
“We lost twice and we know it is a very good team with a good manager, but we are ready and we will try to do our best,” he said. “We have to try and find the right solution to beat them. There are no secrets – I’m always confident. When I feel my players work so well, I’m always confident. The balance is very easy to go up and down but it is important to work well.”
As well as bringing Huth back, Ranieri could hand a debut to new midfield signing Nampalys Mendy, who was unavailable through injury last week. Wenger, meanwhile, has strongly hinted that he will take a gamble and rush defender Laurent Koscielny back into the starting lineup. The France international has had very little training following his extend layoff after Euro 2016, but Arsenal is short of options at the back with injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel.
Prediction: Both clashes between the sides last season were highly entertaining affairs. With Leicester’s pace on the break and Arsenal’s keenness to dominate possession, it could be a similar story on Saturday. Yet after opening losses, both teams will know that they can ill afford to start the season with back-to-back defeats. That could ultimately see both content to take a share of the points.
Predicted Score: Leicester 1-1 Arsenal
Kickoff Time: 12.30 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: CNBC
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra