Matchday it is and I have to tell you, rather than the usual trepidation I feel ahead of a massive game, I am more excited for this one.
Honestly, I really am!
I think it is because – as I’ve said all week – this is priority number three on our list and regardless of the result, I can stomach whatever happens this evening. Obviously I want Arsenal to win and obviously a victory tonight on Man City’s ground will be massive and could have a huge impact on the team in terms of psychological boost going in to the second half of the season, but if we are defeated this evening then you can spin a positive position on it. We all agree that perhaps competing on three fronts might be a little too much for this Arsenal team. This is the first time we’ve ever been in a position where we are in a title race for about 15 years, so the league has never represented a competition we could realistically get close to for a long time. The Europa League is a European competition and we don’t win those. The FA Cup we’ve done before and more times than anybody else. When the fifth round of the FA Cup is played it is slap bang in between two Premier League games and that will be matches 24 and 25, which – as I have already said – is the point at which I will either start to believe we could actually win the league, or re-calibrate my thoughts because City have inevitably caught us up.
So if we are knocked out tonight, there will be clear daylight between two games in which we’ll be able to rest first teamers and have them ready for the next Premier League game. So for me, as much as I love the FA Cup – and I really do because I get to be there at Wembley and win, lose or draw it is a fantastic day out – I can make a case for us no longer being in the competition.
That being said, what the worst situation is from tonight’s game, is a draw, because the fourth round of the competition is the last point in which there can be replays I believe. Neither Man City nor Arsenal want that given their respective schedules, which makes who plays for both sides rather intriguing tonight.
I have a sneaky suspicion that Arteta will go quite strong this evening, you know. I suspect he might give minutes to Turner, Tomiyasu, maybe Trossard, but I don’t think we’ll see the level of rotation that I would personally like to see. For me, I’d undertake mass rotation, and not because I want us to be knocked out. No, instead, I want to ensure that there are minutes in the legs of players who haven’t played as much. If it was me that would mean a side that looked like this:
Cedric – Holding – Tomiyasu – Tierney
Fabio Vieira – Lokonga
Marquinhos – ESR – Trossard
Now, the problem with this line up, however, is that a) Arteta would never fully rotate like this in a million years, b) Kiwior is thrown straight in to a position that he hasn’t played since last season, c) there are rumours that ESR hasn’t travelled and d) it involves a Cedric who has one foot out of the door and Arsenal risk him to injury.
So perhaps that might be the most redundant attempt at a starting XI I’ve ever done, but I just wanted to show you what I would do, as well as why.
What I ‘think’ Arteta will do, is put Partey in tonight. I don’t think he’ll start Kiwior in a game sure to have higher intensity, so I suspect that means Gabriel. I wonder if Zinchenko is so important to the way we play, that Arteta will pick him at left back, plus I suspect Nketiah will also start. There’s no way that Marquinhos plays and that means Saka gets a go this evening and I even wonder if Partey and Xhaka together will be a ‘thing’ for this evening. So all of a sudden you have a pretty strong first team and alarmingly for me, a first team susceptible to injury, perhaps?
I know, I know, you can’t think like that otherwise you’d never play any of your players. Plus there is the fact that this game is on a weekend and there is clear daylight between last week’s game and next week’s game, so you can afford to play players and know that there is recovery time before we play Everton next Saturday lunchtime. But I just feel like some of our players will benefit with a nice long rest ahead of a busy schedule, hence wanting to do some mass rotation, whilst also getting those minutes in to those players who haven’t been starting lately.
Anybody saying that we haven’t had many injuries though, I’ll point them to the fact that we are potentially missing Elneny, ESR and Gabriel Jesus for tonight. These are players that might very well have played and it means our squad already feels stretched. Am I overthinking and over worrying though? Perhaps. But it feels like with every game we now play the pressure and intensity is ratcheting up every time. So perhaps overthinking is going to be a trait from now on this season.
As for Man City, I feel sure Pep will rotate. But that won’t impact them too much. He’ll play Ortega in goal, probably play Alvarez instead of Haaland, then the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden will probably start. The rest is a bit of a mystery as to who he plays but I wonder if De Bruyne will also be a man used from the bench like Haaland? Again, like us, City have over a week off until their next game and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see that he goes full strength tonight, but City’s squad is so good, so strong, that you can’t really tell if he’s rotated an entire team or not.
It will be tough, it will be a good test for us, it will very much feel like a dress rehearsal for the Premier League games, but for me the important thing is to try to avoid serious injury to any player and demonstrate to City that we are a match for them.
There will be plenty of Arsenal fans who are up for this one tonight and in the ground I think we have something like 8,000 of our lot there, so there will be a fair representation from those travelling away Arsenal supporters. So it’ll feel like a good atmosphere and I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on.
Catch you all tomorrow for a debrief on what has transpired.