Leicester vs Arsenal: As Unai Emery struggles, Brendan Rodgers is proving he could be the perfect replacement as Gunners boss
Arsenal and Leicester battle it out on Saturday evening – live on talkSPORT – seemingly heading in very different directions.
Right now, the Foxes are on the up. A highly-rated creative outfit with a solid defensive base, they look destined for the top six under Brendan Rodgers’ astute leadership.
By contrast, the Gunners seem to be a team lacking in identity and are contending with several personnel issues, as doubts grow over Unai Emery’s suitably for the job.
Emery has just been forced to strip Granit Xhaka of the captaincy following a row with his own supporters, replacing him with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while the absence of Mesut Ozil for much of this season has been bizarre, to say the least.
The fanbase hasn’t helped much either with their hyper-criticism of Xhaka, while some of their support also abused new skipper Aubameyang in the street, despite his outstanding record in front of goal.
The problems at the Emirates are in stark contrast to the harmony around the King Power right now, with Leicester fans and players seemingly aware this is their biggest chance, since their title-winning campaign, to rock the traditional top six – and maybe even the top four.
Beating Arsenal on Saturday would be the perfect boost for the Foxes heading into the international break.
But what’s so different about the two teams right now that could see them swap places?
Well, it might just be down to the managers – and Emery may be worried about his opponent on Saturday swiftly becoming his successor.
After a title tilt with Liverpool in 2013/14, Rodgers was unable to challenge with the Reds again as his team, shorn of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and their talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, failed to recapture the form of that oh-so-near season.
His sacking by the Merseyside club in October 2015 was no surprise and with question marks over his management style – and not so favourable comparisons to The Office character David Brent – it was off to Celtic he went with a clear intention to rebuild his career.
That he most certainly did north of the border, keeping his head down – with no talk of envelopes – and overseeing the development of young stars like Moussa Dembele, Kristofer Ajer, Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard while guiding Celtic to two domestic trebles.
In February this year, by the time a third title win was on the cards, he’d jumped ship to Leicester – a team struggling to get things right on the pitch.
A tough season, rocked by the tragic death of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in late October, was also littered with poor football.
Scorelines for some of the campaign looked as if you were reading binary with a stout defence and a profligate attack, even with Jamie Vardy leading the line.
Claude Puel paid the price with Rodgers the man called upon to restore the rambunctiousness to Leicester that saw them win the Premier League title, capturing hearts worldwide, while adding creativity and goals. He did that almost instantly.
Leicester won five of their last 10 games of the 2018/19 season and began to find the net with ease, scoring 18 goals, including three against Arsenal in a romp at the King Power which alerted many to a possible shift in power between the two sides.
The summer was vital and adding Youri Tielemans permanently was the cherry on a cake that saw them replace Shinji Okazaki with Ayoze Perez and add another talented Belgian to their midfield in Dennis Praet.
Even losing star centre-back Harry Maguire to Manchester United was dealt with superbly with Rodgers opting to put his faith in Caglar Soyuncu, the breakout star of the season so far.
He might have added £80million to the coffers for Maguire but it was sensibly accrued rather than put to unnecessary signings on a whim at the end of the window. Smart buys to improve a burgeoning squad was all that was needed.
Academy ace Ben Chilwell has been outstanding too and now looking set to become England’s first choice left-back for years to come, while Harvey Barnes and Hamza Choudhury are also figuring frequently and impressing.
Ricardo Pereira, Soyuncu, and James Maddison are all proving bargains, with Leicester having pipped Tottenham, Arsenal, Southampton and numerous others to their signatures.
Add these to the experience of Kasper Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy and Jonny Evans and Rodgers has the perfect blend to battle the big boys.
It’s no wonder ex-players are now suggesting Rodgers could be the next manager of Arsenal.
“The gap is already six points to fourth and Arsenal are in a situation where they can realistically only afford to lose two more games this season to keep pace with the teams ahead of them,” Gunners legend Paul Merson told Sky Sports.
“And, to make matters worse, the fans are turning, they are booing, making decisions and chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’.
“That’s not good, especially ahead of the two-week international break, a break in which Emery’s position will be under threat if they fall to the Foxes.”
He continued: “Leicester have been outstanding. They have an unbelievable manager. Brendan Rodgers has improved every single player at his disposal.
“He’s getting a tune out of every single player, it’s incredible. If they beat Arsenal on Saturday, they will be in the driving seat for the top four.
“Rodgers has done so well that Leicester have a job on their hands keeping hold of him.
“If I were Arsenal, I’d be breaking the bank to get him, give him a five-year contract and sit back and watch him transform the club.”
Unlike his opposite number this weekend, Emery appears to have learnt rather less than from his failures.
The Spaniard had a tumultuous time with Paris Saint-Germain.
He won one league title in two years, along with four domestic cups with an expensive squad. But he saw the copybook of his tenure in the French capital heavily blotted by their capitulation against Barcelona in the Champions League where, after winning the first leg of their quarter-final 4-0, contrived to lose the second leg 6-1 in astonishing circumstances.
Rodgers vs Emery in the Premier League since March 2, 2019
Played – 21
Won – 12
Drawn – 4
Lost – 5
Goals For – 45
Goals Against – 16
Goal difference – 29
Points – 40
Played – 21
Won – 8
Drawn – 4
Lost – 9
Goals For – 30
Goals Against – 28
Goal difference – 29
Points – 31
Players in France weren’t too keen on Emery either with Marco Verratti admitting it was tough under his stewardship.
He said: “Each manager has a different way of doing things with his players, of making them understand things. Sometimes with Emery, things were quite difficult.”
And when asked whether the main difference was their personalities, Verratti added: “Yes, I think so.
“[Thomas] Tuchel isn’t playing around… but coming to a training session with a shut-off face, that doesn’t work. We have found our smile again, we had lost it a little.”
The French press even accused Emery of being bullied into a change of formation by his players.
Some of the serious concerns at PSG about his management are now felt by Arsenal fans. He appears stricken by fear and reluctant to change things too much, favouring the basics over throwing caution to the wind.
His midfield line-ups can dominate the ball but lack the vision and creativity to unlock teams, as shown in the defeat to Sheffield United and in the recent 1-1 draw with Wolves where – at the Emirates – his side managed 10 shots to the away side’s 24.
Of the seven key passes the Gunners managed, the most creative man in open play ended up being Alexandre Lacazette rather than then men behind him.
And with Ozil now back in the fold, Emery is now twisting away from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2, which now sees club-record signing Nicolas Pepe on the bench, hardly an ideal scenario for all concerned.
The state Puel left Leicester in feels similar to the one the Spaniard current has on his hands at the Emirates with five draws and one loss in their last eight in the Premier League.
Even though the Gunners have superstars like Aubameyang and Lacazette in their ranks and big names like David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, it’s the less-heralded stars at Leicester who look the most likely to earn themselves a top spot.
Rodgers certainly looks deserving of another shot at the big time.
He’s learnt the errors of his ways and bounced back superbly, while Emery might be making the same ones again and it could cost him dearly.
Source: SportsLatest TS