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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

SPORTS UPDATE: Match Preview: Arsenal vs Leicester City


Current sports update as Leicester City take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night in their first outing since their magical European run came to an end at the hands of Atletico Madrid last week.


According to fresh report gathered the Foxes can now focus on league matters in the final month, knowing that top-flight safety is not yet assured, while the Gunners cannot afford to
slip-up if they want Champions League football next term.

ARSENAL

For Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, it was a game that they quite simply could not afford to lose. Out of Europe early on and off the pace in the race for the top four, Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City was the one last hope of salvaging their season.

The scene when the full-time whistle sounded on their 3-2 win at Wembley Stadium showed exactly what it meant to the Gunners' under-fire manager, who will surely celebrate his side's record 20th appearance in the final by officially announcing the agreement of a new two-year deal.

All this has a rather inevitable feel about it, however, as Arsenal have become experts of providing hope late in campaigns, going all the way in the FA Cup twice in the last three seasons and often finishing strongly in the league.

The groundhog day nature of events at the Emirates Stadium is exactly why half of the fanbase has become so disgruntled of late, particularly when the nadir arrived at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago - a 3-0 reverse for the Gunners being met by widespread abuse for the players.

Six defeats in nine games has since become three wins in four, however, leaving Arsenal with yet another FA Cup final to look forward to next month and still just about in with a shout of qualifying for the Champions League for a 21st-successive season.

Should that safety net be pulled away, which will be the case should they slip-up against Leicester in midweek, then it remains to be seen whether adding domestic silverware will compensate for what has otherwise been another disappointing campaign in the red half of North London.

Wenger certainly knows that the way things were heading was simply not good enough, seemingly reinventing himself with a three-man backline for the first time in two decades for his side's last two outings, both of which ended in victory.

While the new-look system looked patchy in the 2-1 win against strugglers Middlesbrough, a match that saw Arsenal do the bare minimum required to squeeze out a result, it worked a lot better in the cup triumph over Man City by getting the best out of certain players.

All this could be too little, too late in the grand scheme of things, however, as Wenger's men trail fourth-placed City by seven points and Liverpool in third by nine points, albeit with one and three games in hand to play over their rivals respectively.

Arsenal can ill afford to drop another point in their final run of six fixtures, but with back-to-back games against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur up next, the unthinkable - a season without Champions League football - now appears to be on the horizon.

LEICESTER CITY

City also have plenty to play for heading into the closing weeks of the season, with manager Craig Shakespeare admitting ahead of Wednesday's match that relegation is still a possibility.

That is an outcome that seems far less likely now than a couple of months back, when a 2-0 loss to fellow strugglers Swansea City saw them drop to within one point of the drop zone and ultimately forced into parting company with popular boss Claudio Ranieri.

The transition from deputy to manager has been a seamless one for Shakespeare, however, turning that five-match losing run in the league into five wins on the spin, not only easing the club's relegation concerns but also temporarily taking them into the top half.

Leicester can be forgiven for taking their eye off the ball somewhat over the past few weeks, with a Champions League quarter-final double-header against Atletico taking precedence, but now that their fairytale rise is seemingly over it is a matter of knuckling down in the league.

One point from the last six on offer has left the Foxes 15th in the table and six points above the relegation zone but, with two games in hand and some winnable remaining fixtures to come, City's fate is certainly in their own hands.

Man City and Tottenham still remain, on top of this tricky trip to face Arsenal, but Leicester also take on three mid-table sides and essentially require just one more win to make certain of avoiding the rare feat of dropping down as champions.

Picking up that valuable win on their travels is unlikely if past form is anything to go by, mind, having taken just seven points away all season - the third-worst tally in the division - although Arsenal have dropped points on home soil in five games this term.


If victory is to be achieved on Wednesday then Jamie Vardy will likely be key, netting Leicester's last three goals against the Gunners and also scoring seven in 10 outings overall since Shakespeare took charge.

TEAM NEWS

Fatigue will likely be the biggest concern for Wenger ahead of this match, coming three days on from the gruelling extra-time win over Man City, so changes can be expected.

Hector Bellerin has fallen out of the side in recent weeks after a loss of confidence, while Kieran Gibbs has been waiting for his latest chance - both players may well be called upon in the wing-back roles, with Wenger likely to stick with his tactical experimentation.

Another pushing for a start after shaking off an injury problem is Danny Welbeck, who is the favourite to replace Olivier Giroud up top should the Frenchman be rested, but leaving out Wembley hero Alexis Sanchez will be a big call - the Chilean is just one league goal off becoming the fifth Arsenal player to net 20 in a single Premier League campaign.

In terms of the visitors, Wes Morgan will not travel with his teammates to the capital after pulling his hamstring in the second-leg draw with Atletico, while Islam Slimani is also out of contention.

Shakespeare confirmed on Monday afternoon that Nampalys Mendy is to miss the remainder of the season after undergoing an operation on his ankle, meanwhile, so Wilfred Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater will occupy the central midfield berths.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Cech; Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding; Bellerin, Coquelin, Xhaka, Gibbs; Sanchez, Ozil; Welbeck

Leicester City possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy

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