We had ourselves a video update from the manager yesterday ahead of the home game against Man City on Sunday and, as expected, Mikel Arteta was more than happy to wax lyrical about the team he was coach at just over a year ago. Of course all the way up there in Manchester we also had Pep talking up what Arteta is doing, being effusive in his praise for his former staff member, which is also no surprise.
Pep talked about how we have been the better side in all of the recent games we’ve played and, when you think about it, that’s kind of true. We were better than Benfica and just didn’t take our chances. I thought in the Villa game we were better than then. When it was 11v11 against Wolves we smashed them. I also think that we slightly edged the United game, if you look at the stats, so whilst our form has stuttered in terms of points you have to say that the overall play has been much better.
We build up better. We look more assured defensively. The only thing we’re lack with consistency is getting bodies into the box and finishing our chances. That will be something Mikel is acutely aware of and especially tomorrow when we take on a City side who are currently winning absolutely everything. they’re on a winning streak that is at 15 games at the moment and so halting that will be some doing.
Quite how we’re going to do it is beyond me. I’ll save the thoughts on their players and ours tomorrow, but it still feels weird to me to go in to a home match against Man City as massive underdogs. I grew up in an era of Arsenal dominance and as well as that we had a run against City in the 2000s in which we basically beat them home and away every time we played.
That’s how they are with us now. The tables have well and truly turned because we seem to lose by a few goals every time we play them. We haven’t even scored a goal against them in the Premier League in our last three matches and in the League Cup just before Christmas we took a battering. In the reverse fixture earlier in the season it was close as Pep clearly took a clear look at what his former charge might do and there was a lot of respect out there for Arsenal. We came away from that game slightly frustrated that we played within ourselves I thought, having looked at the online reaction to that 1-0 defeat at the Etihad, but I have hopes that tomorrow will be different.
Guardiola’s comments about believing we will be title challengers in future wasn’t just lip service I don’t think. I think he is impressed with Arteta and I suspect he will be just as cagey tomorrow in his tactics as he was when we played them in the league before.
I do have to bemoan our luck in terms of travelling though. Heading home on Thursday in the early hours, then probably having a rest day yesterday before some training today, then a match tomorrow. That’s not a lot of time at all for Arteta to formulate a foolproof plan to undo his former team. Which does lead me to think about the Leeds game and the fact we were able to play so well despite some key players missing. Arteta had a full week with his team. How often have we been able to say that? Maybe once or twice this season?
It feels like if he was given more time we’d start to see an even bigger improvement in the team than we’ve seen this season and that for me is exciting in terms of next season. Imagine if we could actually get our sh*t together ahead of fans returning to the stadium? I bet even the Emirates could be rocking if we’ve got a team purring and playing the right notes in Mikel’s orchestra.
Despite kind of wanting to get to see Arteta’s Arsenal with more time in between games though, I don’t really want to see that any time soon, because it means we’re out of the Europa League and whilst it’s proved to be somewhat tiresome for a few years now, it is still a trophy and something we should absolutely be desperate for. As a club we don’t exactly have a massive European pedigree and so winning that competition would be huge for Mikel and his team. It would be vindication of his methods and a second trophy in a row; chucking more goodwill points amongst the fan base would be brilliant and so whilst it might be useful for us in terms of readying the team for next season, I don’t quite want to see us play once a week just yet.
So the thinking cap needs to stay on for Mikel and he needs to ensure he can keep his players fresh and in fitness as well as form for now. This part of the season feels a little more like preparation for games rather than coaching football matches like a chess match. Get the players ready and get them back in there. Like a boxing trainer who has his man in the latter stages of a fight. The guy is tired, he’s heard you with advice all fight, but now you just got to patch him up and send him back out there.
That’s what Mikel has to do tomorrow. Let’s hope we’ve got plenty of slugs left for our opponent. We will need them.
Catch you all tomorrow.