Arsene Wenger’s side failed to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in over two decades last season. That was a major disappointment for the club, and even another FA Cup triumph was not enough to placate supporters who wished to see a change in the dugout and fresh ideas in the boardroom. Instead, Wenger signed a new two-year deal shortly after that defeat of Chelsea in May’s Wembley showpiece, which means it is business as usual heading into the new season. The signings of Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have at least raised spirits a little at the Emirates, while the fact that Alexis Sanchez remains in north London –at least for now – is another major positive. Arsenal may still be outsiders for the title, but their squad has clearly been strengthened this summer.
Leicester have also enjoyed a successful transfer window, with Harry Maguire, Kelechi Iheanacho, Vicente Iborra and Eldin Jakupovic all moving to the King Power Stadium, which still provides a home to star men Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Wilfred Ndidi and Kasper Schmeichel. Last season proved to be a turbulent one for the Foxes, who sacked Claudio Ranieri after a flirtation with relegation, reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and then secured a comfortable 12th-place finish in the top flight under Craig Shakespeare. Ranieri’s erstwhile assistant was appointed as the club’s manager on a permanent basis in the summer, and Leicester may be quietly confident of winning the race for eighth in 2017/18.
Wenger, to widespread surprise, switched to a 3-4-3 formation towards the end of last season, after a 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace in April left the Gunners seven points adrift of the top four. That piece of tactical tinkering led to seven wins in eight in the Premier League, although general performances were often no better than before. Arsenal have had an entire pre-season to try and perfect the system, though, and it will be interesting to see how successful it proves to be in the coming weeks and months.
Sanchez (abdominal), Gabriel Paulista (knee) and Santi Cazorla (leg) will all miss out through injury this weekend, while Laurent Koscielny is suspended. Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are both doubts with knocks, but Lacazette should make his competitive debut at centre-forward and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also available for selection despite being linked with a move away. At the back, Rob Holding will be looking to continue his fine end-of-season form from last term, while Hector Bellerin will hope to get back to his best after a tricky few months earlier this year.
Shakespeare has spoken of the need for Leicester to be more tactically flexible this term, but the 2015/16 champions will likely line up in their customary 4-4-2 formation on Friday evening. The Foxes will focus on sitting deep, ceding possession and springing forward at pace on the counter-attack; they will have to soak up pressure for long periods if they are to take anything from the match, but this team are now well accustomed to doing that. Talisman Vardy will lead the line, ahead of either Shinji Okazaki or Iheanacho, but Danny Drinkwater (thigh), Islam Slimani (leg), Robert Huth (ankle) and Iborra (groin) will all sit this one out due to injury.
Taking everything into account, it is probably worth backing Arsenal to come out on top on Friday night. The north London outfit have struggled on the opening day in recent years, losing at home to Aston Villa in 2013, West Ham United in 2015 and Liverpool last season, but they should ultimately have a little too much attacking quality for the visitors. Leicester may well find the net, though, so a home win with both teams to score looks like the best value bet for the campaign curtain-raiser at the Emirates.