With only three matches left in the Premier League season, Arsenal are in the most precarious of positions. After successfully making up ground between themselves and the other three teams vying for a top four spot over the past two months, Arsenal are currently rudderless, having lost three of the last four league matches while looking woeful in the process. Whether it is accumulated fatigue, incredibly poor depth, puzzling tactics, or just downright lack of quality, there are plenty of reasons for the current late-season nose dive.
Despite the calamitous state of affairs, Arsenal are somehow still in position to finish in the top four thanks to equally mercurial play from Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea. With two spots left wide open, the four clubs left are doing their best impersonation of four kids flailing about in the deep end of the pool, continuously dragging each other back under the water while trying to reach for the same slippery rung of the ladder.
A mere four days after their disastrous outing against Wolverhampton, Arsenal hit the road once more to play against Leicester City at the King Power stadium. Leicester, much like Wolverhampton, Watford, and Everton, are vying for the 7th place spot in the Premier League, which would guarantee entrance to next season’s Europa League. As luck would have it, Arsenal will have played all four of those clubs over their last five matches, with each fixture being an away match for the Gunners.
While that might normally sound like the kind of fun little factoid that commentators toss out during a lull in a match, the sobering reality is that it means that Leicester, much like the other three aforementioned teams, still have plenty to play for, which also means that Arsenal will once again face a motivated team hungry for a win. Not a great proposition, recent form considered.
Arsenal’s roster is largely healthy, but the Gunners are still lacking in quality, and that lack of quality has coincided with the loss of Aaron Ramsey. Without Ramsey, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since the second leg against Napoli, Arsenal’s attack has been noticeably devoid of creativity, even with Mesut Ozil anchoring the midfield. The Gunners could see the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who missed Wednesday’s match while recovering from a sinus procedure. Denis Suarez will be unavailable, not that it really matters at this point.
While Leicester are enjoying a late-season surge, having won three of their last five while drawing and losing once, they have been feasting largely on bottom-half teams. Their last three matches of the season will be against top six sides, beginning with Arsenal on Sunday. Against the top six, Leicester’s record through nine matches is rather poor, with one win, one draw, and seven losses. However, as their lone win came against Manchester City and their draw against Liverpool, Leicester still have the quality to stay with any team.
Records aside, Arsenal fans undoubtedly know that none of that matters at this stage in the season (see: the last four matches). Both teams will need wins, and badly. Arsenal, who suffered an uncharacteristic loss at home against Crystal Palace with a heavily rotated lineup, looked equally as inept when fielding a largely first-choice side against Wolves. Unai Emery, after being lambasted for his milquetoast starting lineup against Palace, will have another tough decision to make, as Arsenal will host Valencia in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals next Thursday.
With both the top four and the Europa League final still within Arsenal’s reach, there has yet to be any clear indication by Emery whether Arsenal will attempt to compete meaningfully in both or forsake the Premier League and focus on the Europa League instead. Sunday’s match will most likely make that decision for the Gunners. While a win would be great, a draw or loss would also bring a sense of relief, as that would all but ensure that the Gunners would make the Europa League their top priority.
With less than a month left, Arsenal’s destiny is entirely in their hands. Whether or not that is a good thing, though, is the question.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Leicester City
WHEN: Sunday, April 28th, 7:00am EST/4:00am PST/12:00pm BST
WHERE: King Power Stadium, Leicester
HOW TO WATCH: NBC Sports
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