Arsenal open their Premier League campaign against Leicester City

Arsenal take on Leicester City in the opening fixture of the 2017/18 Premier League season at the Emirates Stadium tonight (7.45pm kick-off UK time).

Tonight’s match will be first time the English top-flight season will begin on a Friday in its 129-year history.

It’s the latest move by the TV broadcasters to look for ways to maximise their substantial investment into televising live Premier League matches.

As always it’s the match going fans who are inconvenienced by the array of kick-off times. Many fans now vote with their feet in picking and choosing which matches they attend.

It will be interesting to see how the Premier League, and broadcasters, react to empty seats at many televised matches this season.

As for the football season ahead.

Arsenal will be looking for a much improved Premier League campaign.

The Gunners finished outside the top four in the Premier League for the first time since 1996 last season.

The season was salvaged by winning the FA Cup at Wembley, with a 2-1 win over Premier League champions Chelsea.

The fifth place Premier League finish has consigned the Gunners to competing in the Europa League this season rather than the Champions League.

After a season of uncertainty, Arsene Wenger finally signed a two-year contract extension in June.

This will be Arsene Wenger’s 22nd Premier League season as a manager, a new record.

So far though Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are yet to reach agreement on extending their contracts. Each is entering the final year of their current contract.

Speculation around the future of Sanchez has been rife all summer, with the media reporting that he wants to leave Arsenal. Manchester City are reported to be his preferred destination, with Paris St-Germain also strongly linked with the Chilean.

Arsenal have broken their transfer record this summer. Buying striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon in a deal that could reach a fee of £52m with add-ons.

The Gunners other signing is defender Sead Kolasinac, who has joined on a free transfer from Schalke.

Arsenal have won their first Premier League fixture just once in the last seven seasons (D3, L3), and began with defeats in each of their previous two campaigns.

They have not lost their opening league match in three consecutive seasons since 1958 to 1960.

Arsenal ended last season with five straight league wins – they last won six in a row between August and October 2016.

The Gunners have never lost a Premier League game on a Friday, winning six of seven matches. Their last league defeat on a Friday came against Watford in April 1988.

For Leicester City, Craig Shakespeare is preparing for his first full season as Foxes manger.

He replaced Claudio Ranieri mid way through last season. At the time the reigning Premier League champions were in danger of being relegated.

Shakespeare won his first five league games in charge of Leicester but has just two victories in his subsequent eight matches (D2, L4).

Shakespeare though guided the Foxes to a twelfth place Premier League finish and to the last eight of the Champions League.

He has also had to deal with a long-running transfer saga during the summer over the future of Riyad Mahrez.

Roma have had three bids for Mahrez turned down, with Arsenal also reported to have an interest in signing the Algerian.

Shakespeare has also been busy in strengthening his squad.

Striker Kelechi Iheanacho has arrived from Manchester City for a club record fee of £24m.

Whilst centre back Harry Maguire has been signed from Hull City and the experienced midfielder Vicente Iborra has arrived from Sevilla.

The Foxes have won their opening match just once in their last eight Premier League campaigns – they beat Sunderland 4-2 at the start of their title-winning season in 2015-16.

Only twice before have Leicester started a top-flight campaign with an away victory, both at Aston Villa – 3-0 in 1927-28 and 3-2 in 1933-34.

Leicester’s most recent top-flight win on a Friday came against Derby on Boxing Day 1975.

Head-to-Head

Arsenal have won each of their last 10 Premier League home encounters with Leicester City; their joint-longest winning streak against a single opponent.

The Foxes’ last away win against the Gunners came in a top-flight match in September 1973, when Len Glover and Mike Stringfellow scored in a 2-0 victory.

The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 21 Premier League matches against the Foxes (W14 D7).

Leicester’s only victory came in the first Premier League encounter – a 2-1 win at Filbert Street on 23 November 1994.

Arsenal won the corresponding fixture last season on Wednesday 26 April 2017.

A late own goal from Robert Huth gave the Gunners a 1-0 victory over the Foxes.

The match looked to be heading for a draw but four minutes from time Nacho Monreal’s shot flew into the bottom corner off Huth’s chest to give Arsenal the three points.

Key Men

Arsenal

The Gunners will hope that Alexandre Lacazette can settle quickly. Arsenal’s record signing in his previous four seasons at Lyon weighed in with 91 league goals. He scored 28 times in just 30 games in the 2016/17 season and averaged close to a goal every two games for Lyon, scoring 100 times in 203 league matches.

Leicester City

Jamie Vardy has scored Leicester’s last three goals against Arsenal in the Premier League, scoring the opening goal twice, but he is yet to end up on the winning side.

The Managers

Arsene Wenger

“Leicester has a good way to stop people, they defend very well and are dangerous on the counter-attack.

“We are well prepared and ready for a fight, and of course ambitious as well.

“I think we have a good level of physical preparation. All our players got a decent number of minutes of good competition, so overall the preparation of the squad looks good.

“Then we need to transform the quality of the preparation into points and that is of course a pragmatic view, but what matters is we win the next game and start in a strong way, which we didn’t do last year. That’s what we want to achieve this season.

“The target is very difficult to set. You can interview seven or eight Premier League managers who will tell you they want to win the league and they are very ambitious, and rightly so. Let’s just focus on us, on our quality and go into the games with the desire to win every game. What is needed, I don’t know. How strong the other teams are is very difficult to predict as well because some have been very active on the transfer market. How will that transform in quality? It’s very difficult to predict.”

Craig Shakespeare

Leicester City have spent heavily in the summer transfer window, signing the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Harry Maguire and Vicente Iborra.

“I’m really pleased with what we’ve got and the manner in which we’ve done it,” Shakespeare said.

“The Kelechi one… you could have watched the whole boxset of Game of Thrones during the whole saga of it. That’s what it felt like. That’s the industry that we’re in and the reality of it.

“We got some of the other ones over the line early and I think that’s what put a bit of message out, which was good.

“They’ve all settled in and I’ve spoken before about the characters of incoming players – all have impressed me with their characters, as well as their ability.”

Team News

Arsenal

Laurent Koscielny will miss the match as he serves the second match of a three match suspension for being sent off against Everton in the final Premier League fixture of last season.

New signings Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac are both in line to make their Premier League debuts.

Alexis Sanchez will miss at least the first two matches of the season with an abdominal injury sustained in training last week.

Per Mertesacker is a doubt with the cut he sustained above his eye in the first half of the Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday.

Mesut Ozil (match fitness) and Aaron Ramsey (muscular injury) both missed the Community Shield on Sunday and are again doubtful.

Shkodran Mustafi only returned to training last week after being given an extended break having played for Germany in the Confederations Cup in Russia earlier in the summer. Tonight’s match will come too soon for him to play a part.

Gabriel is continuing his rehabilitation on the knee injury he picked up against Everton on the final day of the 2016/17 Premier League season in May.

Leicester City

Danny Drinkwater (thigh problem) and Vicente Iborra (groin strain) will both miss the Arsenal game.

Kelechi Iheanacho has trained fully after a knock to his ankle in the pre-season match with Borussia Monchengladbach last Friday.

Islam Slimani is back in training after a gash to his knee.

Robert Huth will miss tonight’s match, but is back in training after ankle surgery and will play for the Foxes U23s team on Monday.

Match Officials

Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: S Long, D Cann
Fourth official: L Mason

Prediction

Arsenal to get off to a winning start with a 2-1 win.

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