And so it comes down to this. This collective of Arsenal players have worked hard so much this season, they have led the table for so long, but unless the result goes in our favour on a ground in which we haven’t won on in over eight years and have conceded 20 goals in that time, then any last lingering hope of winning the Premier League this season will probably evaporate. Victory for Man City – the expected result amongst most of the pundits out there when I was looking yesterday – puts them two points off us, with two games in hand, a vastly superior goal difference and momentum firmly swung in their favour. The could probably even afford to drop two of their final seven games if they put us to the sword tonight, such is the buffer it would give them because of that goal difference.
And we come in to this game off of the back of three consecutive draws, the deficiencies in our team exposed, players missing out on games like Zinchenko and Xhaka, as well as one of the key cogs in our machine this season probably going to miss the remainder of the season with a back injury.
To say tonight is an uphill climb for The Arsenal is a bit of an understatement. Tonight we have a mountain that needs to be scaled. City are in form, they have an almost fully fit squad, their usually sleepy stadium will be quite up for it tonight, their players have done all this before and they will no doubt smell blood if Arsenal show any kind of weakness. And in the last three games, defensively, we have certainly shown weaknesses.
That is why I am hoping Arteta changes something tonight. What that something is, I don’t know, but he needs to shift gears somewhat because if we set up like we did against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton, with the same mentality and mistakes as we have made in each of those games, then I really do fear a hiding.
Could he deploy a back three with wing backs? Will he shift Ben White to the centre of defence? Does he revert to a double pivot to give Partey somebody alongside him to protect our back four? I have no idea. I guess a lot depends on player availability and yesterday Arteta spoke of the fact that Xhaka hasn’t trained because of the illness he had on Friday. We have to pray that he is fit and can make it on to that field. Friday’s game was clear for all to see that Fabio Vieira is not ready and with ESR seemingly out in the cold right now, the only other option there would probably be to put Trossard in that position. I’m not sure if he’s ever played there before though, so that in itself would be a huge gamble to make in a game of this magnitude.
And this game has such magnitude. More than I can remember. I would SOOOOOO love for it to be at The Emirates, as it would give me a little more hope than I have at the moment. In fact, that’s wrong, because I have ‘hope’, I just don’t have much expectation for tonight. Were we going in to the game off the back of back-to-back victories and the wind of confidence in our sales, with a fully fit team, then I’d fancy us, I really would. But the chips seem to be stacked so far against us that I am struggling to make a logical case for an Arsenal win tonight. And that is giving me a real dull sensation in the pit of my stomach. City are in the kind of form that is frightening. They will most likely dominate the ball, territory and possession and I suspect we will have to box incredibly clever to get anything from tonight.
But the one thing you can have right now as an Arsenal fan is hope. My expectations are clearly not high, but my hope of something magical, something otherworldly, something that hasn’t happened in years, is what I am desperately clinging on to right now.
And so to those Arsenal players who take to the field tomorrow. They have to leave everything out on the pitch. We have to not be talking about individual errors tomorrow morning, we have to be talking about how every single Arsenal player gave a minimum of eight or nine out of ten on the night and, as I said on Twitter yesterday, we need to probably see about eight of our key players to have one of their best games of the season.
In goal Ramsdale will need to make some fine saves, be great with distribution and not have any brain fart moments like on Friday night.
At centre half Gabriel needs to have one of his most assured and composed games of the season. He needs to be a rock.
At left back Zinchenko needs to dictate the midfield pattern of play and needs to get City thinking differently about how they line up against him.
In the base of midfield Partey has to properly step up. No more lose passes, no more wayward 40-yard balloons over the bar, not more sloppy flicks in his own half that lead to dangerous turnovers on the edge of our box.
Martin Odegaard needs to deliver the captains performance of his life. He needs to find pockets of space, to find killer passes to release any of our front players.
Bukayo Saka needs to step up and prove he is one of the elite players in the league who is ready to be ‘the guy’ in big games.
Martinelli needs to be able to counter the strength, pace and nous of Kyle Walker, who will no doubt be marshalling him all nice.
And finally, up top, Gabriel Jesus needs to be on a mission to show City just what they are missing with having let him leave in the summer.
Eight players, eight performances that need to be practically perfect. That is what needs to be delivered for us to get anything from tonight.
It is a long shot. It is an outside bet. Arteta needs to deliver one heck of a ‘Hail Mary’ performance and if Arsenal can, then it makes this season open enough to take it to the final weeks. If not, we’ll probably find that we’ve fizzled out by the time we go to St James’ Park.
Last season we were in the documentary, but this game tonight really does feel like it is All or Nothing.
I am scared. I am worried. I am not optimistic. But I am praying that miracles can happen in Manchester for those Arsenal lads.
Catch you all tomorrow for a post mortem. See you all on the other side.