Wenger to combat tactical evolution

The form of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy will be a major factor in Arsene Wenger's pre-match plans as the Gunners take on the league leaders. The Foxes' striker scored twice the last time the two sides met.
The form of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy will be a major factor in Arsene Wenger's pre-match plans as the Gunners take on the league leaders. The Foxes' striker scored twice the last time the two sides met.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Vardy not the only challenge for Gunners as they seek to neutralise Leicester's self-belief

LONDON • Arsene Wenger's view on Leicester City's Premier League title credentials have changed after their past two games, especially following the 3-1 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last weekend which he admired.

"They had a kind of dominance in belief in every challenge, that special force where teams get into a zone where they think, 'We can do this.' That was the message they gave out in this game, every player," the Arsenal manager said.

"They had a decisive test against Liverpool and City," Wenger said. "If they had lost you would have said, 'No, they can't do it'. But these two games were the turning point in their season. They have certainly silenced all the doubters since the start of the season."

Wenger believes that Leicester have tweaked their style, adopting a more circumspect approach than the one that Arsenal exploited five times (in a 5-2 win) when the two sides met last September.

"I watched our game again because I wanted to know how this team had moved on since," Wenger said.

PUTTING THE DOUBTS TO REST

These two games were the turning point in their season. They have certainly silenced all the doubters since the start of the season.

'ARSENE WENGER, on the Foxes' encounters against Liverpool and Man City.

"There is an evolution in their game, they're more cautious... they play a lot in their final third and they come out very quickly.

"Look at the number of direct balls from their half into the opponents' - it's higher than anyone else's because they have (Jamie) Vardy on his way straight away when they win it.

"They suck you in and they go very quickly into the opponents' half. I think at the time (of the last game) they were a bit more all-going but today they are a bit more 'Let's use our strengths in a different way', which they did remarkably well against Manchester City ."

A high level of focus will be required today to thwart Vardy, who scored twice in the first game, and much of Arsenal's security may rest on the goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Wenger admitted the centre-backs Gabriel Paulista and Laurent Koscielny are not particularly given to communication.

"Neither of the two is a real commander and I ask Cech a bit more to lead because they don't talk too much," said Wenger, who on Friday urged Leicester and Arsenal fans to abandon a planned protest at the game being rescheduled from 3pm on Saturday to noon today.

"Koscielny is a silent leader and Gabriel at the moment doesn't master (the language) well enough, and as well I don't think he's a natural extrovert central defender."

The temptation may be to recall Per Mertesacker despite the German's lack of pace, which Wenger pointed out could be offset by his own powers of anticipation.

There is also the fact that Mertesacker played well in - among others - the crucial wins against City and Manchester United but Wenger's bigger concern is that Leicester do not force Arsenal to deviate from their usual approach.

"We'll try of course to stop their counter-attacking but we have, as well, to play at home and express our strengths," he said.

"Our strength is to have the ball. If we start thinking, 'Do we do what we usually do but not really well?' we are weaker."

Wenger, though, is unlikely to test Leicester with the pace of Theo Walcott, who has "recently gone through a little bit of a difficult patch" from the start.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'WENGER TO COMBAT TACTICAL EVOLUTION'. Print Edition | Subscribe