Having finally righted themselves on multiple fronts with a key victory, Leicester City look to take another large step towards Champions League qualification Tuesday when they face Arsenal at the Emirates.
The Foxes (17-7-9), who last saw Champions League action in 2016-17 following their stunning run to the Premier League title the season prior, had stumbled out of the blocks in Project Restart with two points from their first three matches and dragged back into the scrap for what could be two or three spots in Europe’s top club tournament.
Brendan Rodgers’ side, though, finally put it all together along with a little bit of the rub of the green Saturday in sweeping aside Crystal Palace to remain three points clear of Chelsea for third in the table. Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal shortly after the restart snapped a scoreless tie, and Jamie Vardy finally rediscovered his goal-scoring touch, bagging a late brace to clear 100 Premier League goals for his career.
“I’m over the moon,” Vardy told LCFC TV after reclaiming sole possession of the lead in the race for the Golden Boot with 21 goals for the season. “We were all about getting the performance right today and picking up three points.
“It’s one of those things, you obviously want to score as many goals as possible. I’m also one of them players that, first and foremost, it’s all about picking up points for the team, so it doesn’t matter who scores a goal. Luckily, for me today it was me that got them.”
Harvey Barnes was playmaker for both of Vardy’s goals, one created by a high line of pressure and the other a through ball when Palace sought a way back into the match. Barnes may have to continue being the primary playmaker as James Maddison could miss his second straight match due to a hip injury suffered in the loss to Everton.
Left back Ben Chilwell is also a doubt with a foot injury that forced him off at halftime Saturday.
“We just have to wait and see,” Rodgers said about the duo during his Monday press conference. “There’s big doubts over both. It’s the bottom of Ben’s foot which is giving him pain so we’ll just have assess that and see what the specialists say.
“You can play through it, but you have to manage that. They’ll both be big doubts ahead of the game. We’ll give them every chance.”
Arsenal (12-13-8) are also coming off a vital victory to help their European prospects, an impressive 2-0 road win at in-form Wolverhampton for their third victory on the bounce in league play and fourth straight overall.
An impressive volley by teen starlet Bukayo Saka in the first half and classy finish by Alexander Lacazette in the second was enough for the victory, with Saka capping a whirlwind week in which he signed a new long-term deal with the club.
“What I like is that when things weren’t going for him, how he reacted and the personality to try and get the ball and fight for every ball and keep trying. He got rewarded,” manager Mikael Arteta told Arsenal Digital.
Arsenal’s defence, which had been in tatters and slapstick at times throughout the term, has shown an improved amount of steel with three consecutive clean sheets in league play for the first time since November 2017. Arteta, though, realises Leicester offer a direct challenge to their new-found success in front of the ball.
“It’s very clear what they are trying to do. They are very dominant. They’re one of the teams that has better possession in very difficult areas as well,” Arteta assessed about Rodgers and Leicester City. “In the Premier League, they’ve been really consistent – even though they’ve had some difficulties in the last few weeks – but since they joined, they completely changed the way they are playing and I think they proved against big teams as well that they’re going to sustain that influence against the stronger teams as well.”
Vardy has given Arsenal fits throughout his career, scoring nine goals in the last nine league matchups. He broke a scoreless deadlock in the reverse fixture on 68 minutes and set up Maddison seven minutes later to power the Foxes to a 2-0 win in November.
Leicester are seeking their first Premier League double over Arsenal and first Premier League win over them in north London. The Gunners have reeled of 12 straight wins at Highbury and the Emirates since a 1-1 draw in 1995 and are unbeaten in their last 26 (20-6-0) at home in all competitions versus the Midlands club since a 2-0 defeat in the First Division in 1973.
That 1973-74 season was also the last time Leicester did the double over Arsenal.