Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Friday in the first game of the 2017/18 Premier League season.
Both teams will enter the match blighted by injury concerns, with star Gunners forward Alexis Sanchez among those set to miss out. The hosts could however have midfield duo Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey back as both players returned to training on Thursday. Leicester will miss playmaker, Danny Drinkwater.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently revealed Sanchez will miss up to two weeks after suffering an abdominal strain before Sunday’s win on penalties over Chelsea in the Community Shield. Sanchez’s absence could spark fresh transfer rumours surrounding the forward, who is out of contract in 2018. Yet Wenger has fought to keep the 28-year-old in the fold for at least another season, even going against some board members’ wishes to cash in on the Chilean.
Without Sanchez to lead the line, Arsenal will look to summer signing Alexandre Lacazette to find the net on his Premier League debut.
Wenger’s bigger immediate concern might be in defence. He noted Koscielny is suspended, while fellow centre-back Gabriel Paulista is injured. Fortunately, German defenders Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker could be available despite limited playing time in pre-season. Full-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac could also continue filling in along the back three.
The Foxes’ ability to test the Arsenal defence will depend on new signing Kelechi Iheanacho’s partnership with Jamie Vardy. Iheanacho arrived from Manchester City in a £25 million deal and has the pace, instincts in the box and quality as a finisher to help make Leicester a force in attacking areas this season. Both will be reliant on supply – something want away winger Riyad Mahrez could provide.
The Algeria international is seeking a transfer, but Foxes manager Craig Shakespeare says Mahrez will still produce while he remains with the club. Wenger is a strong admirer of Mahrez. The 26-year-old is a wizard from the flanks and could prove decisive if he’s out to catch the eye of the Arsenal boss.
Mahrez would be helped by Leicester’s strength in midfield, but neither Drinkwater nor former Sevilla ace Vicente Iborra is available, according to Shakespeare. Without Drinkwater, Leicester will lack the strength and
quality in the middle to stand firm against Arsenal’s pressure and counter-attacking.
Even with some key figures likely to miss out, the Gunners should have enough firepower to start the season with a win for the first time since 2014.
VERDICT: ARSENAL 2 0 LEICESTER CITY