I don’t think there’s many people on this planet who could argue a case for Arsenal getting anything today. It really does feel like we have two hopes: Bob Hope and No Hope, against the Champions of England, on their home turf.
There is nothing to suggest that even a draw would be possible, given the fact that we haven’t even scored a goal against Man City in the last four league games and even the last time we scored we ran out 3-1 losers in February 2019. Even when you take into account the cup competitions, it’s one win in our last 11 games (the FA Cup Semi Final win the season before last) dating back to 2017 and in that time we’ve scored five goals. Five goals in 11 games and two of them were in the FA Cup with the others being mere consolation goals in games in which City had the matches sewn up.
We just don’t beat these guys. Not in the league, anyway, and certainly not on their home turf.
And yet here I am, writing my blog, sitting in my folks’ house in the Algarve, tapping away, whilst making sure I go do the morning shop and get the TV all set up so I can watch the game at 12.30pm. Is it because I enjoy the pain? Of course not. But in football you get weird freakish results and that is what I’m holding on to today.
Hope. That’s what we Arsenal fans have today. We might end up with realism by the time I head in to Tavira town later for some seafood and a late lunch, but as it stands this morning hope is still there and that’s what I’m clinging on to.
If the stats don’t make for good reading, the list of first team absentees probably won’t help either. Granted, it’s not as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago when we had Lacazette and Auba out, as well as a host of other players, but against Man City you need to be going in to the game with your absolute best team possible and it’s hard to argue we’ll have that line up today.
For starters we’ve got two players out who will probably be our first choice centre halves this season in Gabriel and White. In their place we have the increasingly-rickety looking Mari and Bob Holding who we all know is a nice enough guy, but not the quality we need if we want to get back to where we all hoped we’d get to in the near future. It is for that reason and that reason alone that I really hope Arteta doesn’t go four at the back today. Go three, get Holding, Chambers and Tierney in that three, then add energy and athleticism in the wing-backs by adding Tavares and Maitland-Niles as your right and left. They have the legs to contribute both defensively and offensively, but as well as that, we only have one frame of reference of beating City and that has been the FA Cup semi final in which Arteta played with a back three, deployed Ainsley on the left and he and Auba were excellent against both City, then Chelski in the cup final.
Why wouldn’t you try that again today? City will overload the wide areas and look to get in behind our wing backs, but if you have Tierney covering the wide left but tucking in as an extra centre half, then Chambers on the other side, it gives us more bodies in those zonal positions that City will want to operate in.
Then, the role of Xhaka and Sambi needs to be disciplined. City will have most of the ball, we know that, which is why the will need to be better in scereening the back line than they did against the West London financially doped oil whores. Be tight, leave no space in between the back line and the midfield two, then look to break with the forwards we have.
And for me today that forward three has to include Odegaard, Saka and Aubameyang. Odegaard will find pockets of space and has the vision to play that eye-of-a-needle pass. Saka is our main man of the moemnt and Auba will happily make those runs in behind if Odegaard is feeding him. It’s harsh on Smith Rowe as he too has been one of our best players, but I’m just not sure we can hit City on the counter with a ball carrier like Smith Rowe. He can beat a man, of course, which can force City to scale back at pace, but if you’re travelling with the ball you’re also allowing other players to catch up. The quickest way to hit teams on the counter is with quick, direct, clever balls from back to front and to me that is Odegaard picking that right pass.
Do I think Arteta will do that though? I do not. I suspect he will persist with a back four. I suspect Pablo Mari will once again get the chance despite the fact his form should dictate that he does not. I suspect we’ll have Auba, Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard and whilst that in itself is a team and a front line that excites me, I just worry that we’re leaving too much exposure at the back given we aren’t going to have a lot of the ball. Bernd Leno may be a busy man today if we do.
Arteta has always managed to keep these games tight against the big teams, in score line at least, but City always seem to score early against us and so I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it again today. Then it will become a game of mega possession on their part and may not make for fun watching as an Arsenal fan. But, like I said at the beginning of today’s rambling, there is always the hope.
Let’s hold on to that hope, people.
Catch you all tomorrow.