Premier League Preview: The Tenacity of Vardy and Wilson


Jamie Vardy

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the 2 key games in the Premier League this weekend. Unbeaten Leicester look to continue their great start to the season against Arsenal, who are struggling for goals this term. Stoke City aim for a first win of the campaign at home to Bournemouth, who have taken 7 points from their last 4 matches.

Leicester v Arsenal

Arsenal have scored just 5 goals in 6 Premier League games, and this blog would argue that the solution to their current problems would be to drop Mesut Ozil. The problem with Ozil is that he operates so far up the pitch that he leaves the midfield duo exposed and struggles to sustain his influence on the match.

In an attempt to accommodate Ozil, Arsene Wenger has experimented with playing Aaron Ramsey on the right side of midfield. This has clearly not worked, as Ramsey has always looked to drift inside, which highlights the fact that he is at his most comfortable when played centrally. The dynamic nature of Ramsey’s performances mean he can speed up the tempo of Arsenal’s play and add attacking impetus, whilst also doing his share of the defensive work.

Santi Cazorla has the ability to conduct play in the opposition half, but he has looked stronger without the ball over the last 9 months or so. With a holding midfielder behind Cazorla and Ramsey, Arsenal will have the required blend of creativity and defensive grit, and they have notoriously lacked the latter.

The last time Arsenal won the title, they finished the season unbeaten, and the only Premier League team with a mathematical chance of matching that achievement this year is Leicester City. Although aiming for a season of invincibility may be a touch optimistic, the Foxes have begun their campaign in impressive form.

Attacking midfielder Riyad Mahrez has rightly gained plaudits for his sparkling start to the season, yet the contribution of striker Jamie Vardy should not be underestimated. Vardy harries defences with his blistering pace and tireless work ethic, which creates the gaps for Mahrez to work in. Arsenal centre-back Per Mertesacker has looked shaky thus far and due to his lack of speed, he will not want to be exposed against Vardy.

Another concern for Arsenal is that Francis Coquelin, their best holding midfielder, will miss out on Saturday’s trip to the East Midlands. Mathieu Flamini had a good game in the League Cup against rivals Tottenham in midweek, scoring twice, but he has not started a Premier League game for Arsenal in this calendar year. The Gunners may struggle without the tenacity and discipline of Coquelin, and there may be more gaps between their midfield and defence for Mahrez to thrive in.

Leicester are on the crest of a wave at the moment and this blog will back the Foxes to continue their sublime form with a memorable victory.

Stoke v Bournemouth

It says much about Stoke City’s start to the season that goalkeeper Jack Butland has been their best player. With Ryan Shawcross out injured, Mark Hughes has attempted to modernize his Potters team by operating with ball-playing centre-backs in Marc Muniesa and Geoff Cameron. The fact that both of these players have played in other positions throughout their careers, means that they both lack the disciplined, rigid mind-set required of a centre-back.

Muniesa, who was dropped in favour of Marc Wilson last week, can often be bullied in their air, which has been a factor behind Stoke’s inability to defend set pieces. On Saturday, Hughes may be tempted to start Phillip Wollscheid, who had a reasonable game against Fulham in midweek, but this very dilemma may create a lack of stability in Stoke’s defence.

One other player to catch the eye at Craven Cottage was Ibrahim Afellay, who showed flashes of quality on the left flank. However, his right wing opponents that night were Tom Cairney, a playmaker who likes to drift inside, and Jazz Richards, a defensive-minded full-back, so there were fewer defensive responsibilities on Afellay than there may ordinarily be. In this case, he will have to track back against Bournemouth right-back Simon Francis, who was arguably the best full-back in the Championship for 2 consecutive seasons and starred in his team’s 2-0 win over Sunderland last week.

While established Premier League teams like Stoke have approached this season with a sense of complacency, and not been strong enough without the ball, the newly-promoted clubs are showing an admirable desire to compete. Bournemouth, like Norwich and Watford, have done just that.

Similarly to Jamie Vardy, Callum Wilson’s route to the Premier League has not been through the academy of an elite club, but through honest graft in the lower levels of the game. After loan spells at non-league clubs such Kettering Town and Tamworth, Wilson proved himself in League One at Coventry, then in the Championship with Bournemouth, and his experience of playing lower down has made him a more determined, harder working footballer. Wilson gives Bournemouth that pace, energy and drive up front, and there are not too many strikers in the Premier League at the moment that centre-backs would fear playing against more.

If you were to handpick players based on their experience and individual quality, Stoke have, pound-for-pound, a stronger squad than Bournemouth. And yet, the lack of drive, hunger and tenacity in this Potters side means they are performing well below their expected capability. The Cherries are the team to back here.

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