We face Manchester City today and it’s fair to say Pep’s side is likely to provide us with the sternest test yet.
Our campaign has been hit-and-miss up to date, although I do have to give the team credit for recovering after (another) horrendous start. Since collapsing at Anfield we have lost only once in 13 games (to Twatford) and drawn on just two further occasions (Chelsea away and Crvena Zvezda this Thursday). Granted, we have not always shown the swashbuckling style we all love, but at least we ground out the results.
City, however, have been nothing short of impressive. They sit top of the league on 28 points in 10 games and are also walking their Champions League group with 4 wins in 4. They have swept aside the teams we have gone down to (Stoke, Watford and Liverpool) and look formidable indeed. You would think Pep’s constant rotation was bound to tell, but all it did was show us the ridiculous depth and quality the side has.
Suffice to say I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about our chances today until I’ve stumbled upon several bits of trivia, namely: in five games against one another Arsene and Pep shared the spoils (2 wins, 2 losses, one draw) and Arsenal have only lost once to City in the last 9 matches – 2-1 away defeat last season. In those 9 games City also failed to keep a clean sheet. Pretty cool, right?
Now, of course every game is a new game and all that, but psychologically our players should be better prepared for this one than some others. History plays a part because it sits in the players’ heads. I’d be much less optimistic if we were going to United or Chelsea today.
A further feel-good factor is our renewed ability to come from behind. We have done this twice in the league already – just last week! – and that’s indication of some capacity for resolve. Hopefully we won’t have to find out the hard way today, but it’s still reassuring to know we won’t just give up should we concede first.
Team news update
There is basically no news here. All of Ospina, Chambers, Mustafi and Welbeck will be unavailable, though all should return after the break:
“They are not far, Danny is not far and David is in training as well but the Man City game will come too early for them.
“City is too early as well for [Mustafi], we have to be a bit more patient with him. Normally all three should be available after the international break. Chambers is back in full training and available after the international break as well.” – Arsene Wenger
Poor Santi is out too naturally. The reason I mention the bloke is because just this week the horrific extent of his injury was revealed. The Spaniard’s ankle wound got infected several times, he lost 8 cm of the Achilles tendon as a result, and also required a skin graft, which was taken from his hand. Moreover, at some point his doctors were contemplating foot amputation, and even now it’s not clear just how much Santi will be able to recover. It’s good he can still walk at least. If you haven’t seen the photos of his leg in Marca, I’m not going to be the one to show them to you. They are, quite frankly, scary.
All I can say is that I wish the Spaniard a recovery to the fullest possible extent. He is a delightful person and a uniquely-talented footballer. It has been an honour and a pleasure to watch him play for us and I sincerely hope he will do so again. The best of luck to you, Santi.
Now, AW recently said this on our approach:
“We will try to play our game – we will not hide, put it that way. You want to defend well but you cannot only be focused on defending. We want to play and have the ball and create dangerous situations. Sometimes the best way to defend is to attack.”
Asked if that would be too much of a risk given City’s form, Wenger said: “You have to accept the risk if you want to play football. You accept the gamble and the risk. It’s part of the game. You have to rate the risk. Is it a bigger risk only to defend if a team is very strong when they attack?
“You can win with any style. That’s what makes football interesting. As long as you’re strong in the style you want to play. At stake for us is three points and we want to try to go there and win.”
His comments make sense. Retreating completely into our shells will likely see us pummeled for two reasons: CIty have been devastating in attack up until now, and we are not very good with our backs to the wall.
However I do think we will try and win the midfield battle against City, aka the battle for possession. They have quality we couldn’t match even with a fully-fit Santi Cazorla, attempting to do so can be quite costly indeed without the Spanish wizard. If anything, I can envisage us setting up to counter City with pace, and try to hurt their slow centre-back pairing, Otamendi and Stones. Walcott showed it can be done just last season.
Going for a defensively more solid approach also makes sense because we don’t exactly have front-footed centre-backs, barring Koscielny. The Frenchman is likely to be flanked by Mertesacker and Holding – not a duo you’d like to hold a high line (no pun intended). I’m saying this because, even though Wenger didn’t mention Kolasinac in his presser, the Bosnian wasn’t pictured training on Saturday. I’m presuming he therefore will play no part, which is a darn shame and a huge loss, by the way.
I think Coquelin will be asked to pair Xhaka in central midfield on this occasion, with Ramsey pushed higher up as a second ten, to complement Sanchez and Lacazette. Wenger may even spring a surprise by starting Walcott, but something tells me it’s unlikely. On current form I’d rather start Giroud if, for some reason, Wenger opts against Lacazette. Ollie is as good an escape route as any, which we are going to need to bypass the midfield.
And yes, I would absolutely drop Mesut Ozil for this one. He is going to have a very hard time finding the pockets of space he loves to operate in, and he is what a fifth wheel is to a cart when we are defending. Sorry, Mes.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Holding – Bellerin – Coquelin – Xhaka – Monreal – Ramsey – Alexis – Lacazette
I have seen us put in disciplined performances away from home before (even this season) and I see no reason we can’t do it again. City are formidable, they are going to have the bulk of the ball, but that doesn’t mean we should just capitulate like we did against Liverpool.
It is not going to be in any way simple to run out winners today, but I have faith we can do what’s required. I think everyone understands how important this game is and I would be surprised and extremely angry to see a meek surrender.
So come on you Gunners.
Over to you.