The Premier League season is entering into itÂ’s final third and the battles at the top and bottom are
Aston Villa looked dead and buried a few weeks ago but they have managed to claw themselves into a position where they have a sliver of hope at survival
They host a Liverpool side that has been floundering of late with a 2-2 home draw against Sunderland the latest blot on their copy book
Manchester UnitedÂ’s rejuvenated side take on a Sunderland team buoyed by their recent draw with Liverpool while Everton are looking to continue their surge up the table as they face an out of sorts West Brom.
However the game of the weekend is on Sunday
When the fixtures were released in August it would have been pinpointed as a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race
Chelsea would be playing Newcastle, a team that they have struggled against in the past while Manchester City would host Tottenham, the former one of the title favourites and the latter earmarked for future success. Instead, Chelsea are hovering above an embarrassing relegation battle while Manchester City trail Tottenham in the race for the title
It has been the most extraordinary Premier League season and the surprises show no signs of abating.
The game of the weekend comes from the Emirates stadium though as third place Arsenal host
leaders Leicester City
This game would have been seen as a chance for Arsenal to make up ground on Chelsea and Manchester City or perhaps extend their lead at the top
Instead Arsenal are looking to close the gap on Leicester, the team that was earmarked for a relegation battle and not a title win.
What more can be said about Leicester at this point? The well of unused superlatives is drying up
with the Foxes subject to the most miraculous turnaround in Premier League history
LeicesterÂ’s rise up the table has been well documented this season, but it has been stained by fan and pundit alike waiting for an apparent inevitable drop in form or injury crisis to derail their season
As of yet no such crisis has arisen
Instead, Leicester have gone from strength to strength with their 3-1 dismantling of title rivals Manchester City the latest glimpse of what they are capable of
Robert HuthÂ’s superb looping header into the top corner of Joe HartÂ’s goal was the moment Leicester fans and players began believing their teamÂ’s name would be up in lights beside the European heavyweights, Barcelona, Real Madrid Bayern Munich..
However LeicesterÂ’s aim should not solely be a Champions League spot
With fifth place Manchester United languishing 12 points behind with 13 games to go, Leicester must now switch their gaze to a bigger prize, the Premier League title
Jamie Vardy has scored 18 goals and assisted three while Riyad Mahrez has scored 14 goals and assisted ten contributing to LeicesterÂ’s 47 goals, joint top with Manchester City
While the pace of Vardy and the technical ability of Mahrez are hugely important to Leicester, the passing weeks have heralded the ever increasing importance of Kasper Schmeichel. The Dane has kept five clean sheets in his last seven games, helping Leicester to strengthen their defence, the weaker side of their game
His superb reflexes and commanding presence have helped to stem the influx of goals as the Foxes have now only conceded 27 goals in 25 games, only one more than Manchester City
If Leicester are going to continue their good form in their search of an unlikely title then the form of Schmeichel is incredibly important.
Arsenal on the other hand have arrested their recent slump and claimed their first victory in four
It was by no means a vintage Arsenal display with the Gunners struggling to contain a Bournemouth side that are strong at home
However what was important was getting their first win in four and the fact they won the game by two goals also picking up a clean sheet
Petr Cech has already reportedly picked up 12 points for Arsenal this season with his saves against Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham and Sunderland all proving vitally important to ArsenalÂ’s campaign
Like Schmeichel, CechÂ’s shot stopping and commanding presence have been a welcomed addition to ArsenalÂ’s back line and his title winning experience is giving the Gunners a dimension that they have longed for
It seems that this title clash may be decided in a battle of the keepers.
With the attacking talent that Leicester pose Arsenal will have to look to the pace of Hector Bellerin
and the defensive intelligence of Laurent Koscielny to help nullify the threat of Vardy et al
If Francis Coquelin is able to start he could become a key figure in the contest
The midfielders, who has been side-lined since November with a knee injury, return would bring a stability and balance to ArsenalÂ’s midfield which has been missing since he limped off against West Brom
His ability to cut out attacking moves along with his energy make him an integral part of the midfield
The balance he provides is through a consistent defensive shield which allows the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to assign more time in the final third where their talents are best utilised.
The reverse fixture between the two sides back in September saw Arsenal run out 5-2 winners as
Leicester tried to match the pace of ArsenalÂ’s game, leaving too many spaces for the likes of Mesut
Ozil to ghost in to
It was a brave but foolish plan which resulted in Arsenal beating the Foxes soundly
However playing away from home will only suit Leicester more
Arsenal will want to play their normal style of quick passing football which keeps them in possession for long periods in their opponents half
If Leicester can frustrate Arsenal though, then they are likely to commit more men forward leaving huge spaces in behind the defence where the pace of Vardy is most dangerous
As soon as Arsenal lose the ball the likes of Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater and NÂ’golo Kante will look to pick their heads up and look for a pass which allows Vardy to run off the shoulder of the defender. While the likes of Koscielny and Bellerin are quick, once Vardy has a yard on a defender then there is no catching the speedster.
In a season which has been so rife with shock defeats and moments of true magic, it makes this
game incredibly difficult to predict
Being the home side gives Arsenal an advantage but Leicester showed last week that playing away will not change their style of play, it perhaps suits it more enabling them to soak up pressure for sustained periods before hitting teams on the break
The talents of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will prove an enormous challenge for Leicester, but it was only last week that David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero were stifled so effectively
Any loose pass or sloppy defending will be pounced upon by Leicester but with the likes of Alexis Sanchez on the pitch Arsenal will fancy their chances at bringing the runaway leaders back down to earth with a bang.
Final score: Arsenal 2 Leicester 2
Source : DSG