Morning folks and welcome to another matchday in another weird fanless season. Today it is another one of those dreaded trips up to Manchester and just because I am the kind of person who likes to inflict misery on myself, I decided to try to work out how many times in the League we have won in Manchester since we beat City there five years ago in that game in which we thought Arsene had finally sussed how to play against the new breed of big teams. Sadly it was an isolated data point, but as I said, I thought i’d find out how we’d faired since then.
Not great as you and I both know. In games against man City in the league we’ve played four, lost two and drawn two. If you go back beyond 2015 to when they first got taken over in 2008, the record reads played drawn five and lost six, with just a couple of wins in that time. Not as bad as our United record in which we haven’t beaten them in about 14 years, but still not great. And in Pep’s time it has been pretty poor both home and away.
The hope is that if there is one man in this league who knows Pep inside and out having worked with him for four years it is Mikel Arteta and whilst during his Thursday press conference he wasn’t getting too bullish, he must have an idea of how to beat City. Of course we were comfortably beaten in the game last season at the Etihad just as Project Restart began, but that always felt like mitigating circumstances, with both early injuries as well as a real shocker of a performance from David Luiz showed. But assuming nothing like that happens tonight – and it almost certainly will now i’m talking about it – we should go into this game with the hope that at least we can give a better account of ourselves than we did during that game just a few months back.
That game was like a training match once it went to 11 v 10 and we were chasing the City shadows all night. Today we’re going to be chasing them a lot too, no doubt, but we have at least hope with us for the first time in a long time.
I’m reluctant to say their squad availability gives us an advantage as well because let’s be honest, they’ve got one of – probably THE best – squad in the league. It is why they win the League Cup every season; they can completely rotate their side and still have some of the best players in the league. But today they will be missing some key men and that is at least something for us to hold on to.
There is no David Silva any more. There is no Gabriel Jesus. No Sane. They are event missing De Bruyne through injury picked up on international duty. That is a big blow for them because he is arguably the best player in the league. You can’t not miss the best player in the league. They’ve also got question marks over Aguero, who has been out since June but has started training this week. Perfect timing to cause us a bloody nose no doubt. But in those players missing it means that we at least have a better chance of getting something this evening.
Of course they do have Raheem Sterling who is available and with four goals and two assists in his last eight games against us in the league it is not exactly a downgrade in terms of goal threat for them. If he plays centrally it will be interesting to see how Arteta tries to curtail him. We don’t have the defence to leave him isolated, so do we drop off and hope that numbers can get the better of the England international?
City will of course look to create overloads and also get wide players in behind our wing-backs – which I’m assuming Mikel goes for today – so they can deliver those devastating byline cut backs that have been a trademark of theirs for some years. I suspect that means we need to be able to do a number on Mahrez wide right and Torres wide left. I haven’t seen much of him since his arrival in this transfer window just gone so the hope is that as he’s adjusting he still hasn’t quite found his form yet.
As for us, we need to play classic ‘rope-a-dope’ tonight I think, even with all of their injury challenges. City are too good for us to dominate the ball and so we need to draw them out and then hit them on the counter. That’s why I am hoping that we see a front three which includes Aubameyang, Pepe and maybe even Saka. We saw it in the second half against Sheffield United and it looked better than the first, so why not have those three in contention?
Of course I’m making an assumption of a back three and that could very well not be the case with Partey now available to start today. I suspect he won’t because he hasn’t had much time with the team, but a side with Partey in it could look like:
Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney
Partey – Xhaka – Ceballos
Pepe – Aubameyang – Saka
Of course I’m assuming intensive lobbying to the Scottish Government has worked on Tierney, but if he isn’t available then maybe it is Maitland-Niles or Saka to play in that position. If that happens then we’ll see a similar tactic to that employed at the start of Arteta’s reign when he would select Saka on the left but he had much more freedom to roam forward as Xhaka tucked in. This formation allows that and with Partey’s athleticism able to cover distances, it means we aren’t left short in the middle of the park if there is a turnover.
But I do think Arteta starts off cautious tonight and I think that means Partey on the bench, with a line up including a back three:
Holding – Luiz – Gabriel
Bellerin – Maitland-Niles/Saka
Xhaka – Ceballos
Pepe – Lacazette – Aubameyang
Not my preferred line up, but I don’t know how ready Partey is. Personally I’d still have Saka for Lacazetter in the side and then play Auba centre, but hey, I trust the boss so it’s all good.
We may not win tonight. We may not even getb a draw. But these games against City have looked a little embarssing of late. Last season it was a joke both away and home in terms of a competitive gane and at the beginning of Unai’s reign we also got shown up a bit. But this is an opportunity for Arteta to continue to prove that progress is being made and even if we lose tonight – which must be the expected result – as long as we’ve shown we’ve closed the competitive gap, I’ll probably be okayish with that.
Catch you all tomorrow.