Arsenal and Leicester square off in the biggest match of the English Premier League season

This Sunday may be the biggest day of the English Premier League season. The four top sides in the table — Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur — will square off in two matches that will determine the shape of the title race. If Leicester pulls off another big victory while Spurs and City draw, that would put the Foxes an incredible seven points clear. But if Arsenal and Spurs both win, Leicester’s lead would be only 53 points to 51 for both North London sides. While it is not impossible to lose a 7-point lead, nor would a 2-point lead be indefensible, the gap in the likelihood of Leicester winning the title would be massive.

I have projected the title race based on the nine possible combined outcomes of these two matches. The effects are wide-ranging.

The most important match here appears to be Arsenal-Leicester, as either side become likely title favorites with a win. Arsenal, with the league’s best expected goals difference, projects strongly enough to be solidly favored to make up the two-point gap over Leicester City. Spurs and Manchester City will be rooting for a draw in the early match.

Both matches offer not only big stakes but also fascinating tactical battles. In the early match at the Emirates, Arsenal will be attempting to slow down the direct counterattacking runs of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy that utterly wrecked City’s defense last weekend. It is no secret how Leicester attacks. Of the top five clubs the Foxes are a massive outlier tactically. The following chart counts the number of passes or runs into the central area of the final third, compared to the number of those which took place as part of a counterattack. Most top clubs use counterattacking as one method of reaching the central area of the final third, but Leicester depend on it primarily.

There are a few ways to try to stop a counterattack. Arsenal will certainly look to hold possession and prevent Leicester from having many opportunities, but the Foxes’ 44 percent possession rate is already 18th in the league. Claudio Ranieri’s side is used to playing without the ball — Leicester only needed 34 percent possession to batter Manchester City. An aggressive counter-press can slow down opposition counterattacks, but this is not Arsenal’s game. The Gunners’ 46 percent counterpressing rate is 13th in the league.

That means the weight of the burden for stopping counterattacks will fall on defensive midfield and the backline. Here Arsenal will need Francis Coquelin, who has been available only as a substitute recently. His replacement Mathieu Flamini offers neither the athleticism nor the skilled positioning of Coquelin, and Arsene Wenger’s side has been far more open to penetrating attacks since losing its first-choice defensive midfielder.

The attacking gap is in fact even larger. Arsenal has average about 2.2 expected goals per match with Coquelin and 1.55 without him, likewise 3.3 big chances created per match with Coquelin, 2.2 without. With a thin squad and a key weakness in central midfield, Arsenal has significantly dialed back its aggression in attack. If Coquelin is back and fit, breaking up counterattacks and freeing his teammates to push forward more aggressive, Arsenal should be solidly favored.



1. Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth. Back to the top of the league where we belong. Take a bow, Gunners!

2. Southampton paid the price today, if you press Arsenal high it can have its rewards but it is exhausting work, they will struggle in the next game also while they recover. These lesser teams need to pace themselves if they want a good finishing spot in the EPL.

3. What does it profit Southampton to beat Arsenal and lose its soul at West Ham? Did we not tell u they will play their rubbish football on Monday?

4. Yes and Southampton paid the price today, if you press Arsenal high it can have its rewards but it is exhausting work, they will struggle in the next game also while they recover. These lesser teams need to pace themselves if they want a good finishing spot in the EPL.

5. That Southampton high didn’t last too long then? HAHAHAHAHAHA thanks West Ham for putting them back in their place

6. Southampton had 2 people on Ozil most times (the Wanyama thing is an urban legend), some of their aggressive play was enabled by the officials and they met their match against West Ham in that department.

7. Meanwhile my neighbor vowed he won’t shave until Man Ure wins. He now looks like Fidel Castro, and Aston Villa are still 3 months away!

8. I will love Tottenham to come 2nd in May and guess what? Arsenal will be 1st because Tottenham always behind them lol

9. Arsenal will finish first only if spurs finish second! hahaha

10. Great result after an awful lack-of-performance just 2 days ago. Nobody is claiming league or doom and gloom! 1 round at a time.

11. Always enjoy watching Arsenal. Yes, Ozil is again the wizard of the game. Yes, Walcott is poor today. But don’t forget his last goal was counted as Ozil’s assist yet it was not a real/assured opportunity. Why would many Gooners expect strikers to convert all opportunities into goals? Even Messi misses easy opportunities! Yes, Arsenal may need a more clinical striker, but you are not in a supermarket with such merchandise available! All proven better strikers are bound to other elite clubs. Have more confidence in your players and, in Wenger! Gooners!

12. Wenger must be the only EPL manager who seriously deserves to win the League, 11years persistently trying, no one will ever have his stamina, it will never be repeated, for what is worth hope he does get it this season, no manager ever deserves it like he does, in turn he will be a true Arsenal`s well deserved Legend.

13. You said Arsenal will be 4th? Tell me which 3 teams WILL finish above Arsenal…City maybe but who else – Chelsea, Man U, Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool (can you bet your pay on that realistically happening?)

14. I felt the 2nd and 3rd goals for Southampton were handed to them and some of their aggressive was enabled by the officials – can’t do that every week! St Mary’s is a bogey ground for us anyway…(dreading Stoke away as well as they have been turning teams over for fun!!)

15. Wenger once again proving he’s got an eye for talent. Who would’ve known Chambers would playing in midfield for Arsenal ? And once again, another day, another assist for the BEST playmaker in the WORLD. And congratulations to Cech for breaking the clean sheets record, I’ve got to thank Chelsea for selling us their gem.

16. Simply a joy to watch Arsenal play… Some of the goals they score after mesmerizing ! Won’t be far-fetched to say that with their quality, they make up for the boring football played by United and Chelsea…




1.What is so important about heading the table in December?

2. Its one loss that cost us nothing, still in the title race and not the relegation battle. So lets be for real, there is nothing to gain from sacking wenger, wenger like furgy will retire, its what you do after a long term stay at a club, something jose wants but can’t seem to pull off. Perhaps he should take a page out of our history and see the top four as the relegation battle for champions. Oh wait jose never had to fight to stay up he comes in and sinks them before leaving. Nothing personal but he loses one game and he needs three to bounce back. So the FA shield must have rocked him cuz there was no bounce back. Even cheating as always at the bridge to come up with a win is water off the backs of arsenal, its one game jose one game. Perhaps your vacation will give you time to think that over!!!

3.Southampton just decided to put on a show at home on Boxing Day, and will revert to their old selves on Monday. It happens.

4.I had weird feeling Arsenal would lose today, because every time there is a chance to top the table, they manage to slip up. They did not fight today. Against the city, everybody chipped in defending. But, todsy everybody pushing forward even after they were threatened many times.

5.Leicester lost 2-5 to Arsenal. Bar that loss, they have nearly identical GD records not to mention spurs absolutely love playing for a point as indicated by their draw count.