Morning Gooners, how we all doing on this Saturday morn?

How optimistic are you that we might see Bukayo Saka on the pitch tomorrow, eh? A bit more optimistic than a couple of days ago I’ll bet. That’s because we’ve started to hear some whisperings that he might be ok from Sunday, with even Mikel Arteta admitting that he is ‘in contention’ to play against the champions. Then yesterday I saw a few journos in the afternoon and evening say that he’d been cleared to play, that the club had been speaking to England as well about managing his minutes, so you have to assume that we might at least see him in the squad for tomorrow.

And given that we’re already more than likely to be missing Martinelli, who I don’t think has trained yet and so must be pretty unlikely to feature, that is a morale boost, for sure. The question will remain on how able he is to play from the start. I always find that a little bit of a weird one though, because when you have a player who has been playing so regularly, then surely it is a little more black and white than Saka being named on the subs bench. Players coming back from longer injuries will of course need time to get up to speed and if you look at Partey, or maybe even Martinelli, then if they’ve missed three or four weeks+ of training and matches then they probably do need to be eased in. But Bukayo has been playing in most matches as we all already know. So physical fitness to cope for an entire 90 minutes shouldn’t be the problem. The problem comes if he isn’t ready because he is still experiencing discomfort/pain caused by limping off on Tuesday. If he is, then the club need to take the difficult decision to just not have him involved at all. And if that happens then you have to be looking at those two England games and agreeing that he should be nowhere near at least one of them; the friendly against Australia he should not even be getting his tracksuit on.

But that’s England and that’s next weekend. This weekend all eyes are on the second toughest fixture of the season for us domestically, the first being Oil Whores FC on their own ground. And for us it is even harder than other sides as well, as we have one of the worst records against City in the Premier League and certainly the worst of all of the ‘Big Six’ clubs. No win since 2015, 15 losses out of 16 against City, including 12 in a row in which we’ve been defeated. Arteta was asked about that in his press conference yesterday and although he dismissed the psychological impact of so many defeats to them, citing different players playing over that period, there’s no doubt in my mind that there is a big psychological barrier for us to overcome tomorrow. He also dismissed it as a ‘season defining’ game and although it is in the interests of the broadcasters to make that the case, I have to agree with him on that one. We are seven games in to the season and after tomorrow there is another 30 to go. I doubt that this game tomorrow will define our whole season, but what it will do is reconfirm that we’re not ready to compete for the title just yet given some of the changes that have happened to the team since last season. We’ve all talked about how we haven’t quite clicked yet, we had a disappointing away result in midweek against Lens and I’ve even been saying since the summer that I think this is going to be more difficult for us to compete in the same way we did last season, because of those extra Champions League games. So to me whilst I don’t think tomorrow is season defining, I would agree that talk of the title should probably just be pushed so far down the discussion topics if we pick up yet another defeat to them tomorrow.

He was asked about other players like Partey and Rice specifically and as you’d expect, he was pretty positive on both. He’s ‘ahead of schedule’ according to the manager and I suspect we will definitely see him tomorrow in some capacity. Arteta confirmed he’s in the squad but the big question – a line-up one – will be on whether he is fit enough to start tomorrow. If the answer is ‘yes’ then it could be very big for us.

Equally important is somebody like Ben White and as good as Tomiyasu is, White is clearly the best right back we have at the club. Arteta described him as a ‘fighter’ and there’s no doubt that’s a pretty accurate desctiption of him. He seems to be so unfazed by everything, quite laid back, yet when he’s on the pitch he is a beast. You could see from the Lens game just what he adds compared to Tomi in an attacking and overlapping sense and there was one overlap Tomi made on Tuesday that he got in behind, but his cross in wasn’t the best. I remember thinking to myself “Ben White finds an Arsenal player there I think” and that is testament to just how much he has developed in that right back slot. He really doesn’t get enough praise; he’s quite an unsung hero at the club but any Arsenal fan you speak to about Ben White, we’re all telling you about just how brilliant he is.

There was a little bit on Pep that I thought was interesting too, where Mikel was asked whether Pep can still surprise him. He cited last season’s efforts at playing Bernardo Silva as a left back as one, but I think the way they also went long against us at the Etihad could also be shown as an example on how flexible and adaptable Guardiola is as a coach. He will shift anything around to find a solution to the opponent he faces. I’m sure with some teams lower down the league there is an element of ‘we’re just better than them, let’s just play our game’ and because of that, those teams are more likely to be able to cause an upset over City compared to us; Pep will have a very unique gameplan to play against Arteta’s Arsenal ahead of the match tomorrow, as opposed to playing away at a Forest, Wolves or West Ham, for example. So we need to be mindful of that, Arteta needs to be mindful of that, and be prepared to change it in-game as well. Let the 3D chess commenceth tomorrow at 4.30pm.

And from me for today I shall call a halt to my tapping away. Back tomorrow with more of a match preview, some thoughts on my preferred line up, as well as trying to work out how the hell we beat this City side.

Catch you all tomorrow.