It’s almost 17 years to the day since Dennis Bergkamp took a ball out of the sky and then inside a defender with three of the most sublime touches ever seen on a football field before dispatching it into the Leicester City net to complete a brilliant hat-trick. “It was one of the best hat-tricks -- and certainly one of the best goals -- I've seen,” Wenger said of the goal this week, according to the club’s official website. “It is absolutely a masterpiece of intelligence, technical quality and finishing.”
Arsenal return to Leicester on Sunday and Wenger will be especially grateful if one of his current players can match the feats of Bergkamp on that memorable night at Filbert Street. Since it was revealed that his first-choice striker Olivier Giroud will be ruled out for the rest of 2014 with a fractured left tibia, the calls for Wenger to add to his forward options have come thick and fast. While not ruling it out, in typical Wenger fashion, he has shown a large degree of bemusement with the focus on transfers and instead tried to switch the attention to the internal solutions at his disposal.
The primary solution is Alexis Sánchez. The £35 million signing from Barcelona has the traditional traits of a winger, yet has had enjoyed plenty of success as a central striker with Chile, not least at this summer’s World Cup. And it appears Wenger is banking on the 25-year-old being able to replicate that success in the more physical Premier League within Arsenal’s system. It will undoubtedly require adaptation. Against Everton last week, Sánchez was withdrawn at halftime after a first 45 minutes in which the rest of the Arsenal team looked on a different wavelength to their new striker. Used to operating with Giroud, who thrives with his back to goal, they now have a striker who is almost exactly the opposite. In midweek there was more encouragement. In a nervy Champions League playoff tie against Besiktas, Sánchez came up with the vital only goal, one that all-but paid back his transfer fee in one fell swoop.
More of the same against Leicester and Wenger may be able to avoid further pestering about signing strikers before what he gives the impression is his happiest time of the year: the close of the transfer window. Wenger could also do with a convincing performance all-round. Four points from two games in the Premier League and securing qualification for the Champions League group phase for the 17th straight season makes it a successful start to the campaign for Arsenal, but they have yet to hit their stride.
Injuries continue to be a factor. On Sunday, he will again be without captain Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Giroud. And Arsenal will be taking on a Leicester side that have so far impressed in what was an unenviable start to life back in the top flight. When Bergkamp scored that goal in 1997, Leicester were in the midst of four consecutive top-half Premier League finishes and that consistency is now surely the dream for current manager Nigel Pearson. While those heights remain some way off, last season’s Championship winners have so far shown that they can hold their own in the Premier League.
After fighting back to earn a 2-2 draw with Everton, Leicester held title favorites Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for more than an hour last week. Had David Nugent shown more composure in front of goal they would have taken the lead. As it was they went on to lose 2-0 as Chelsea’s quality told late on. Pearson has made an effort to bridge that quality gap this week by snapping up former Real Madrid and Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso. It remains to be seen whether the former Argentina international will get international clearance in time or be fit enough to make his bow at the King Power Stadium against Arsenal, but Pearson will have key midfielder Danny Drinkwater, as well as Marc Albrighton and Jamie Vardy available after injuries.
Prediction: Leicester certainly showed enough against Chelsea to suggest that they can cause problems for an Arsenal side coming in on off the back of an intense match in midweek. Leicester also showed a genuine threat on the break last time out, but lacked a crucial clinical touch required in the Premier League. It may just be then that Arsenal, as they did so well last season, get an efficient win against a team that they’re expected to beat.
Leicester 0-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra