Leicester City’s rise to the top of the Premier League with just five games remaining has been a remarkable story, and has spread positivity across England in an otherwise cynical time for the much maligned image of English soccer. The flip side of Leicester’s rise has been the ongoing struggle of Arsenal, the team that many tipped at Christmas to be the top of the league by the end of the season.
Leicester City’s dynamic wing-play, 4-4-2 system and two solid centre backs have previously been trade marks of Arsene Wenger’s title-winning teams but many years have passed since Arsenal and Wenger’s last successful league campaign in 2003-4. Can Wenger learn from Leicester’s rise?
1. Unearthed gems are still out there
Wenger has historically been credited as being the man in European soccer that can spot the rough diamond whether it be the speed and finishing ability of a young Nicolas Anelka or the raw talent of a 20 year old Kolo Toure, but his ability to spot and acquire young previously unheard of talent seems to be on the wane. Leicester have proved through the signings of N’Gol Kantè and Riyadh Mahrez that there are still top quality players out there available if a manager is willing to take the risk. Mohamed Elneny’s emergence since his January signing has been well documented but Wenger has turned to more big-name signings and experienced names in recent years. Nobody can doubt the talent of Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez but the signings of Mathieu Debuchy, Lukas Podolski and David Ospina offer low risk but have come with little reward at the same time.
2. Old-fashioned center backs can still be effective
If we turn out minds back to the title winning teams of the Wenger era, there are a few themes that run through each starting 11. One is most certainly the simplicity of the center back pairing with Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell starting during the unbeaten season, Campbell alongside either Martin Keown or Tony Adams during the 2001-2 season and Keown and Adams present throughout the double-winning 1997-8 campaign. Although Laurent Koscieny has progressed in recent years and Per Mertersacker has clear leadership qualities, the insistence on playing out from the back has cost Arsenal. Plus the success of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth as well as the formidable partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill last season shows that the strong, basic center back still leads to success in the Premier League.