The Premiership is finally back and Arsenal and Leicester will get proceedings underway in what promises to be a thrilling encounter on Friday night. The first match of the season will feature two attacking sides that are bursting with pace and creativity, so it should prove to be an open, exciting game. Leicester will give Arsenal a real battle, but the Gunners really should win this if they are serious about challenging for the Premiership title.
These two finished first and second in 2015/16, when the Foxes defied odds of 5,000/1 pipped Arsenal to claim the unlikeliest of title victories. But last season was a spectacular anti-climax as Leicester finished 12th and Arsenal missed out on a place in the top four for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 21-year tenure. Both have a lot of room for improvement going into the new campaign, but there are signs that the Gunners are further along that path than the Leicester.
Arsenal finished the season in barnstorming form and in the end they only missed out on the top four by a single point. In doing so they set a record for the highest points total of any fifth placed side in Premier League history, which is scant consolation for Wenger. But what will have delighted him was the manner of their FA Cup final victory over Chelsea as they dismantled the Premiership champions with a fantastic blend of pace, energy and dynamism. It came after a semi-final win over Man City and all stemmed from Wenger’s decision to switch to three at the back.
That move transformed Arsenal’s fortunes as they became much harder to break down, conceded far fewer goals and saw a dramatic upturn in results. Wenger has declared his intention to persist with the new formation going into this season and it inspired Arsenal to another Community Shield victory over Chelsea at the weekend. Heavy hitters like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil missed that victory, but the former could return to the starting line-up for the Leicester game. What really showed in the Community Shield was the shrewd transfer business conducted by Wenger this summer: £52 million striker Alexandre Lacazette looks quick and sharp and a clinical finisher, while free transfer Sead Kolasinac is strong, powerful and talismanic. Both will slot straight into the first team and improve it. That match against Chelsea will also have provided Arsenal with an opportunity to get their fitness levels up ahead of the Friday night match.
Leicester have regressed badly since winning the title, but Craig Shakespeare managed to rejuvenate after replacing Claudio Ranieri last season and steer them to safety. Still they finished the campaign by losing to Man City, being walloped 6-1 by Tottenham and drawing at home to Bournemouth. They have since matched Arsenal’s summer spend by bringing in Kelechi Iheanacho, Vicente Iborra and Harry Maguire. You have to say they are all excellent signings, but their impact may not be instant. Iheanacho is certainly expected to be eased into the season and may not start against Arsenal. Riyad Mahrez is also unlikely to feature as he agitates for a move away from the club.
Leicester still have plenty of firepower in Jamie Vardy and co, but they will meet an increasingly stubborn defence. Meanwhile they have lost their defensive strength in recent times as Wes Morgan and Robert Huth are not getting any younger and replacements have not been forthcoming. Arsenal have beaten Leicester in each of their last three home meetings and should make it four on the bounce on Friday.
The best odds at present are 1.50 at William Hill, but those odds are drifting and it might be worth waiting to see if they improve further. To get more value, Arsenal -1 Asian handicap is 1.86 with Bet Victor, a great set of odds when you consider Bet365 will only go to 1.55, and that looks an excellent option as Arsenal should be sharper and hungrier and benefit from home advantage once again.