Daka, Iheanacho & Aubameyang: African match-winners battle for supremacy at Leicester

The recovery looks to be on for Leicester City and Arsenal after particularly underwhelming starts to the 2021/22 season, for varying reasons. 

Brendan Rodgers’ men had to battle with injuries and illness at the start of the campaign, forcing the Northern Irishman to rejig a side at the back multiple times in the opening weeks. 

The upshot of that slowed the integration of Patson Daka into the fold at the King Power Stadium, while Kelechi Iheanacho surprisingly found himself on the periphery yet again following a storming run in the second half of the preceding season.

Maybe the Zambia star was always going to bide his time as he acclimatised to English football, although the aforementioned challenges and the Foxes’ mixed results meant the former Red Bull Salzburg marksman wasn’t thrown in the deep end. 

Slowly, the Central African has started to gain the trust of his manager, combine better with teammates and become a favourite of the fans since October’s international break. 

Leicester City striker Patson Daka and Zambia.

He put paid to any potential Manchester United equaliser in that rip-roaring 4-2 success over the beleaguered Red Devils and set up James Maddison for what turned out to be the winner at Brentford last week, opting for a sensible pass when others might have chosen to go it alone. 

How about the storming Europa League showing in-between the aforementioned games?

A four-goal haul against Spartak Moscow turned the game on its head as the East Midlands side roared back from two goals down to win 4-3 in Russia. 

A defeat was going to leave Leicester playing catch-up in the group, staring Europa League elimination in the face. Daka’s intervention was timely. It was just what the doctor ordered!

His understanding with Iheanacho has developed, too, since Rodgers observed budding signs in a pre-season fixture against Queens Park Rangers. 

Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City.

The Nigerian had a hand in two of the summer arrival’s European quartet, the latter particularly showing his rationality in squaring to the Zambian when he could have easily gone for goal himself. 

Statistics reveal Iheanacho is so far having a greater involvement in moves and is shooting at a lower frequency compared to last season, although this comes with a caveat of a small sample size of games. 

He, however, leads the way for shot-creating actions per 90 (4.09) for teammates averaging three games or higher, while no colleague outranks his 1.02 goal-creating actions per 90. Notably, the West African is exceeding his mean in both categories from the last four campaigns, but this could change with additional games. 

While the ageless Jamie Vardy arguably remains the main man at the King Power, Daka’s upswing and Iheanacho’s multi-faceted nature mean Rodgers could trust the pair against Arsenal if the Englishman hasn’t made a recovery from the issue that forced him out in Sunday’s hard-fought 2-1 win at Brentford. 

The Leicester man does enjoy a game against Arsenal, evidenced by his 11 goals against the side from North London. They are his favourite Premier League opponents and only Wayne Rooney (12) has ever netted more in the competition than the 34-year-old. 

Jamie Vardy Leicester 2021-22

Undoubtedly, the marksman will relish the opportunity of moving level with the former Manchester United man as the Foxes chase a third PL win on the trot for the first time since January.

Standing in their way are the resurgent Gunners who’ll look to capitalise on a perceived soft underbelly despite a reversion to a back three. 

The Foxes have failed to keep a league clean sheet since the opening day win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, conceding a staggering 15 times in those eight games, a statistic Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will look to continue on Saturday lunch-time. 

Hindered by illness at the start of the campaign, the Arsenal captain has looked to be decisive in continuing the club’s recent upswing in performances and results.

Four goals and an assist in his last six appearances point to an improvement, but he’s due a big away performance after appearing subdued on the road to date. 

In the opening games this season, the accuracy of his shooting betters last year’s significantly which bodes well for a man who endured undue criticism at times in 2020/21. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal 2021-22

Again, the seeming upturn comes from a small sample size of games, yet the fact the Gabon superstar’s underlying numbers in front of goal beat his opening 18 months in North London and is just short of his impressive 2019/20 ought to elicit optimism after last season’s drop off.

At this stage last season, the frontman had netted a solitary strike. Heading into the 10th gameweek in the current one, he’s already found the back of the net on four occasions. 

Mikel Arteta will look to the frontman to be decisive as the three-time Premier League champions strive to produce a strong showing on their travels to finally match impressive home showings seen in their derby success over Tottenham Hotspur and last week’s convincing victory over Aston Villa. 

Neither Leicester nor Arsenal had encouraging starts to their seasons, but the pair find themselves only three points off the final Champions League spot in an embryonic PL table. 

If any of the African forwards likely to be involved on Saturday helps to take his side closer to these clubs’ eventual target, it further strengthens their belief after the negativity that accompanied respective low-key starts. 

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