The 2017-18 Premier League season gets underway when Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates on Friday (19:45 BST, live on Sky Sports).
Arsenal come into the match in good spirits on the back of their penalty-shootout victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last weekend. They edged a 1-1 draw during normal time, with Sead Kolasinac scoring their late equaliser, before winning out 4-1 on penalties.
It was the third time in four seasons that Arsenal have lifted the Community Shield but more significant silverware will be required if manager Arsene Wenger is to reestablish a strong relationship with the club’s supporters. Arsenal failed to secure a top-four finish last time around and another similar campaign would not sit well.
The Gunners moved to a 3-4-3 formation during last season’s run-in and have continued with that alignment in pre-season. The switch produced results but the underlying numbers were less convincing and it will be interesting to see to what degree the quirks have been ironed out during the couple of months of training ground work afforded by the off-season.
Arsenal have so far brought in two new players this summer. Alexandre Lacazette joined on the back of three consecutive seasons of 20 or more goals at Lyon, while Kolasinac came in from Schalke on a free transfer to provide defensive cover. Significant further business is only likely if Alexis Sanchez, who like Mesut Ozil is now in the last year of his contract at the club, departs. If he stays, it is perhaps only in midfield that additions will be seen.
In truth, it is difficult to see Arsenal making a big step forward this season, which in the face of increasingly strong competition at the top end of the Premier League table may see them struggle to regain the top-four place they lost last time around. Their first five home fixtures comprise encounters with teams who are newly promoted or finished ninth or lower last season, which at least gives them an opportunity to make a good start.
Leicester, will, however, be the first of those opponents hoping to overcome the odds and cause an upset at the Emirates. Last season was a severe comedown for the club following their incredible league-title success in the 2015-16 season, culminating in the dismissal of title-winning coach Claudio Ranieri. A strong run in the Champions League and a good end to the campaign provided a bit more optimism for the season to come.
The Foxes spent a solid chunk of money bolstering their squad ahead of last season but few of their signings truly contributed, and they will hope for better from this summer’s recruits. Harry Maguire and Vicente Iborra fill holes in defence and midfield respectively, and if Kelechi Iheanacho can translate his scoring rate in uneven minutes for Manchester City into a similar output as a starter, the £25 million paid for him will look good business.
Arsenal v Leicester Betting Odds from Bet365:
Ranieri’s former assistant Craig Shakespeare remains in charge and will be aiming for a top eight finish. He is likely to persist with the direct, counter-attacking style that delivered their shock league title success, although pre-season experimentations suggest he will not be averse to changing formation, if not approach, when required.
Leicester have a difficult start to the campaign, with matches against four of last season’s top six in their first six fixtures, and need a couple of strong results to prevent heads from dropping. If their title success two seasons ago showed just how far belief, confidence, determination, togetherness and a stroke of luck can take a team, the first two-thirds of last season displayed just how destructive a downturn in those qualities can prove.
Arsenal have actually lost their opening fixture on home soil in each of the last two seasons but have a very strong record against Leicester. They have won 10 in a row at home to the Foxes, while it is necessary to go back to 1994 to find their last defeat to them, home or away. That has no doubt played a role in lengthening Leicester’s odds to a point where a handicap in their favour has become an attractive bet in what will likely be a low-scoring encounter.