City unfazed by title spotlight

City unfazed by title spotlight

EPL GRAPHICLONDON. — It has been a captivating English Premier League soccer season, full of twists, turns and unexpected title challengers rising to the top.

And the weekend ahead — or specifically Super Sunday — will go quite a long way to determining who will lift the trophy in May.

At the Emirates Stadium, leaders Leicester City will have a stern examination of their title credentials as they take on Arsenal in a high noon showdown. Then, later in the afternoon, fourth-placed Manchester City host second-placed Tottenham in another match of great significance.

With just six points separating the top four, snatching points off your rivals now could make all the difference come the end of the campaign.

And ahead of what promises to be a crucial afternoon, Jamie Vardy is adamant Leicester City remain unfazed by the mounting pressure of the English Premier League soccer title race as the shock leaders prepare for a summit meeting with Arsenal tomorrow.

For the first time this season, Claudio Ranieri’s side find themselves the bookmakers’ favourites to be crowned champions after their fairytale rise reached a new high with last weekend’s stunning 3-1 win at title rivals Manchester City.

The Foxes sit five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and third-placed Arsenal with just 13 games remaining and the previously unthinkable prospect of the unfashionable outfit winning a first ever top-flight title is now a genuine possibility.

But the task of successfully completing an unexpected title bid proved too much for Liverpool in the closing weeks of the 2013-14 season and many pundits still believe Leicester’s unheralded players, who only last year were fighting to avoid relegation, will crumble in similar style.

However, England striker Vardy, whose 18 goals and effervescent displays have been the driving force behind Leicester’s surge to the top, insists there are no signs of any nerves in the camp ahead of this weekend’s crucial clash with the Gunners in north London.

“We’re just enjoying it aren’t we? We’re enjoying the ride,” Vardy said. “If you start thinking about it too much it’s going to affect you, it’s as simple as that.

“We’ll just continue to do exactly the same thing we’ve done all season.

“Arsenal are up there, we’re up there, (Manchester) City are. We’ll just take every game as it comes, knuckle down and hopefully keep picking points up.”

Arsene Wenger’s team pounded Leicester in a 5-2 victory inspired by an Alexis Sanchez hat-trick in September and in the process extended their 22-year unbeaten league record against the Foxes to 18 matches.

But Vardy is confident Leicester, steeled by their recent triumphs at City and Tottenham, have learnt the lessons of their heaviest defeat of the season and will provide more obdurate opposition for Arsenal this time around.

“No doubt it will be tough against Arsenal, we know the players they’ve got are world class but although we lost 5-2 when we played them last time we did show that we can hurt them,” Vardy said. “I think it’ll be a matter of us tightening up a bit defensively and, as we’ve seen, we’ve kept a lot of clean sheets recently.”

But Arsenal manager Wenger belives pressure will also be on Leicester City in tomorrow’s early kick-off at the Emirates Staium.

“I believe still they’re in a position where they think where they are, they have nothing to lose. But when you’re top, you can lose what you have.

“The pressure is on us as well, I don’t deny that. But we take it as a positive, an opportunity to show how strong we are.

“You don’t need to be a super mathematician to realise it’s an important game. Maybe not decisive for the Premiership but it’s not decisive. There’s still a long way to go. I’m not sure (who will win it). But Leicester are in a strong position and are still there. We’re still nearly there.

“In the last week, they’ve become a solid contender for the Premier League with two positive results. Now everyone thinks they’re possible winners and they have a mathematical advantage,” Wenger told reporters yesterday.

Wenger has admitted he wasn’t aware of Riyad Mahrez before he joined Leicester.

The Algerian joined the Foxes from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre in 2014 and has developed into one of the Premier League’s best players after a breakthrough season.

“I didn’t know him,” Wenger said ahead of Arsenal’s home clash with Leicester tomorrow.

“He played second division in France. So they did very well (to sign him). “Today he’s one of the dominant players in the Premier League.”

Per Mertesacker is not guaranteed to return to Arsenal’s starting eleven this weekend after losing his place to team-mate Gabriel.

Wenger said: “It’s difficult to go into individual assessment.

“He (Mertesacker) has played many games. He’s a great leader very respected in our dressing room.

“But I have three centre-backs and I adapt, on form, on opponents, on their strengths.”

Just hours after the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium, attention will turn north to Eastlands, where City host Tottenham in the other fixture with major implications for the title race this weekend.

Buoyed by four successive league wins, Mauricio Pochettino’s team harbour hopes of a first English title since 1961. Tottenham have made a habit of failing to fulfil their potential whenever they have started to look like title contenders in the past, but Pochettino, who took charge last season, sees far more resilience in the current squad.

“I think we are different people now,” Pochettino said.

“It’s difficult to explain but today we live in the present and everyone at the club believes we can win every game.

“This is important. To speak about the past is not fair because we have shown we can get success from the season.”

Fixtures (all 5pm unless stated)

Today: Bournemouth v Stoke, Chelsea v Newcastle (7:30pm), Crystal Palace v Watford, Everton v West Brom, Norwich v West Ham, Sunderland v Manchester United (2:45pm), Swansea v Southampton

Tomorrow: Arsenal v Leicester (2pm), Aston Villa v Liverpool (4:05pm), Manchester City v Tottenham (6:15pm) — AFP.

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