It’s the big one today and, as I suspected but didn’t say, the butterflies and nerves for this game against City later on are starting to kick in.

Arsenal travel to Manchester trying to do something we haven’t managed to do in nine previous attempts in all competitions. You have to go back eight years to 2016 to see Arsenal get anything other than an ‘L’ at the Etihad and you have to go back even further – one year in fact – to see us pick up all three points.

We have a wretched record at the Etihad, which is why I predicted we’ll most likely lose by a single goal today, when we had a chat on the Same Old Arsenal podcast on Friday.

And although I have still woken up this morning feeling like that is still probably the most likely outcome, I still feel like this Arsenal team are going to show up today and show that we at least deserve to be in the conversation at the top of the league. On Friday Arteta talked about the buzz around London Colney and then this morning when I woke up I listened to Declan Rice’s interview on Sky Sports ahead of this game, and what struck me was the confidence and calmness about how he talked about the way the players are feeling ahead of this game. In a way that is giving me hope; in previous years I’ve written this blog ahead of this game and pretty much said “standard fare when we go to City. We’re getting tonked today”. But I don’t feel like that will happen today. Not at all.

As I e already mentioned, I have a feeling this game will be decided with just one goal. At the Emirates earlier in the season both teams cancelled each other out. On that day it was the finest of margins and a deflected Martinelli shot that wrong-footed Ederson to give us our first win at home in years. One feels like today will have to be something similar for us to get any kind of victory.

The good news is that there are enough data points to point towards to suggest that – assuming our first choice back line are fit and we aren’t missing anyone, especially Gabriel – we can go there and try to limit City’s chance creation. We won’t be able to stop it, we might need a little bit of luck along the way, but if our back line is there and ready to take on the Champions and treble winners, then as a Gooner you must be feeling the same as me: we’ve got a chance.

A victory would be amazing, but given I’ve predicted we’ll probably lose 1-0 to make us think we’ll never beat City away ever again, I’d absolutely bite yer hand off for a draw. A draw means we’ll secure a valuable point and although we’ll relinquish top spot (Liverpool are 100% beating Brighton at Anfield today, boys and girls, we all know that), it would mean we can keep momentum and would only be two points off the league leaders having gone to the hardest ground in the country and gotten it out of the way. It will install more belief for these Arsenal players and as we head in to what feels like the most deadly April we’ve faced in around 20 years, we’d be well placed to tackle it, confidence and morale wise.

As for what team gets put out by Arteta today, I keep flip-flopping on what we should be doing. A lot of it is of course predicated on who is fit, but some of the questions I’ve been asking myself are:

  • Do we continue with Kiwior at left back? He’s been fantastic so far in this run in, but he hasn’t played in any of the big games in that position just yet, so City could look at that as a weakness.
  • Should we bring in Zinchenko instead? Not sure. Is he fit enough to start? Would City target the space he vacates as he moves in field when we are in possession?
  • Jorginho and Rice to play in the base of the midfield? This feels like a safe option with Pep surely going to try to put as many attacking match winners on the pitch as possible. If we play those two deeper, it affords us protection. But Arteta could look to deploy one of them in the left eight position like we did at home to Newcastle, for example, maybe even having them alternate in that role.
  • Is now the time for Gabby Jesus to return to the side? I’ll spare you the Easter puns on that question, but do we need to find a way to get him back in? If Martinelli isn’t fit then I wonder if it’d be worth getting him in there on the left wing; I thought he was excellent playing right wing when we played them at The Emirates and he’ll certainly have a lot of desire to show his former employers what they are missing since they sold him to us.

It’s a tough one and whilst I’m delighted that we appear to have so many options (might also keep City guessing too?) I think it serves to highlight what a chess match we’re going to be watching today. Well, assuming there isn’t some kind of match-affecting incident like a sending off or a big injury to a key player that changes the game-state. Football is a game of variables and if something like that happens then of course all of the above assumptions have to have a line struck through them, but based on as I sit here and type this in the morning of the game, it feels like it’s going to be very tightly contested. After about 10 minutes City and Pep will know what we’re set up to do and Arsenal and Arteta will know how City are set up. So the structure of the teams will probably change five, six, seven, eight times as both managers manoeuvre their players to try to counter what the other manager is doing.

Expect cagey, expect Galaxy brain football, expect jabs and counter jabs rather than haymakers.

City will want to ‘do’ us early and keep control of the game. We have to be prepared for that and keep it tidy. Every time we’ve been battered it’s been because we’ve conceded early. Don’t do that today, Arsenal. Please…

Right, that’s about enough of my waffle for today. I’m off for a run to stretch off the stress, then it’s a big Easter lunch before I watch the game from behind my hands.

Have a good one folks. Let’s hope us Gooners are happy come 7pm tonight.