I never normally watch the opposition match press conference, but given the build up to this massive game tomorrow and given how significant it could impact both City and Arsenal’s season, I thought I’d have a little sneak peak at pep’s comments in his presser. Obviously I was also intrigued on how he delivered news on Stones and Walker, because both players limped off during the international break and despite that, most of us Arsenal fans are all going with the “we call bullsh*t line with regards to whether they will be absent on Sunday. But he was pretty blunt and surly when he answered that question within the first minute of the footage I watched. When he was pressed again on Stones playing for international duty he even said “I have no comment about that”. He’s clearly quite fuming.

I can understand that. He’s fighting for history, for titles, he’s seen two really important players go away on international duty for meaningless friendlies, then he’s had those players returned broken because Gareth Southgate is a complete muppet. Hey, if it’s true what he’s saying though – and having watched the video I have no reason to believe otherwise – then it’s a big boost to us for tomorrow. Walker has often been able to keep whoever we play left wing quiet over the years and in John Stones operating in midfield they have a guy who alongside Rodri provides the kind of solidity that is the bedrock of their success over the years. Yes, they have the x-factor players like Haaland, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Grealish who can all hurt us, but Stones is a ball-playing, strong, central defender playing midfield and although Kovacic is a very good replacement indeed (and will probably have a blinder tomorrow), I do think that is a step down slightly for them and hopefully we can capitalise.

As for Arteta’s conference, as you’d expect, he was giving absolutely nothing away on whether Gabriel, Gabby Jesus, Gabby Martinelli and Saka’s availability, but when you look at Pep’s response to his injured players, then compare it to Arteta’s body language, it was very different indeed. Arteta just said “they haven’t trained but we have a session tomorrow so there is a chance they can be available”. I think that’s as close as we are ever going to get to a situation in which Arteta admits that they should be ok, or at least most of them.

What I did love was Arteta talking about the players coming back and their response from being away on international duty. He talked about the buzz all around the club and at the training ground. I’ve seen quotes where he has said about how the team really wanted to train, they wanted to be back together, there is a lot of camaraderie in the group and that he’s really pleased with it. This is really important I think; I remember in 1998 when we went to Old Trafford, I heard in commentary I think it was Martin Tyler or one of the other co-commentators, talking about how they saw the Arsenal players arrive with proper game faces on, but looking really relaxed. I remember thinking at the time it was a positive sign, because this comment came right at the beginning of the game. Those players on that day turned up at the team that was fighting for the title with them, on their gaff, then managed to pick up all three points. And they were just relaxed and cool because they knew the form they were in and they knew that they were in the kind of mood to win a title. And they did just that with that Overmars goal.

So when I hear Mikel talking about his players in the way I read yesterday it really does fill me with a lot of excitement. If those players arrive in Manchester with that same belief, with that same confidence, with the same drive and happiness, it will be a massive help. Places like the Etihad, Anfield and Old Trafford can hold psychological grips on teams; we haven’t won up there in almost a decade and even yesterday I spoke about City as being like the final boss on a computer game, so any way in which you can try to diffuse that potential psychological barrier by getting those Arsenal players in the right frame of mind, I am all for, for sure. If those players don’t fear the home of the champions, if they go there wanting to bloody the nose of a juggernaut and if they are in the right frame of mind, then ladies and gents, we’ve got ourselves a chance.

I think our away form helps as well and Kaya Kaynak asked Mikel yesterday about the good form and what the secret was. He batted away the question a tiny bit by saying he doesn’t know what the secret is and that we try to play the same away as we do at home, but clearly there will be some significant changes the team makes to the set up. If this game was being played at home we would certainly be able to give that extra 5 – 10% I think; Mikel himself talks about the importance that the fans have at the Emirates, so it is the same with City and their fans and those Arsenal players and Arteta will prepare for that approach. Just look at the way he tried to counter the Liverpool ‘atmosphere’ during the All or Nothing documentary – he knows that you have to adapt your approach away from home, he just doesn’t want to broadcast loudly how he does it and how he prepares his team.

Other than that it was pretty standard fare for the rest of the presser. He inevitably shrugged off the number of games because he knows there’s nothing that can be done about it until the football powers that be pull their fingers out and sort it. He also shrugged off the international games at this time of the year; he played a straight bat there as you’d expect him to. So with that in mind I’ll stop for today and I’ll catch you wonderful people tomorrow. Have a good’un.


If you still fancy some more content to chew on ahead of the game, we did a pre match preview pod on the Same Old Arsenal channel yesterday morning which you can view here.