After the weekend’s results saw Manchester City lose to their city rival, Manchester United, Arsenal are a full five points back with 10 games left to play. An extra emphasis will be put on getting some kind of result on Wednesday and while it feels like too much to hope for a full three points away from home, Arsenal may be at a point where getting nothing from the game will eliminate the slim chances that do remain.
It will be interesting to see the lineup that Mikel selects in an attempt to put it all together. Confidence may be higher after seeing City lose at the weekend and knowing their chances at the winning the league are slim, but it should be noted that they still managed 72% of the possession and their star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t playing. City will no doubt put more and more emphasis on the Champions League, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the star power and ability to put out a great line up.
Per www.arsenal.com team news was released around some of the injuries within the team:
Left knee. Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee during Chelsea (h) on December 29. Successful surgery completed. Rehabilitation process expected to take between six to nine months.
Right shoulder. Significant strain to right shoulder joint during Everton (h) on February 23. Aiming to return to full training by the end of March.
Tight right thigh. Being assessed ahead of Manchester City (a).
Left knee. Aiming to be in full training this week (w/c Monday, March 9).
Right ankle. Sustained fracture to right ankle during Portsmouth (a) on March 2. Still receiving continual assessments. Recovery process expected to take between eight to ten weeks.
Two things of note. First, Lucas Torreira’s injury is significantly worse than some rumors had initially thought. A fractured ankle could see him out for the remainder of the season which will be a huge blow to Arsenal in the coming months.
Second – Hector Bellerin was left off this list of players, but it has been revealed that he has been playing through a suspected groin tear. It is believed that he obtained this injury before the Newcastle game that saw Arsenal win emphatically 4-0, and sheds light on why people have noticed him seem a bit off the pace. Lately, Arteta has opted to select Sokratis for the right back role, which suggests that this injury may be serious and certainly something to keep eyes on. If anyone could use the offseason to get healthy it is him.
Gunner Thoughts before City
As we approach this week’s game, there are a few things that I will be looking to see or expecting from the team and lineup.
In a game away from home where Arsenal are likely to see little of the ball, it feels like a game that doesn’t suit Mesut. On one hand Arteta may look for a player that can be the difference every time the ball is at his feet, but as we have seen this year, he struggles to offer that. These days, he needs his fair share of touches to be a difference maker and that often requires that the team is able to find him with the ball often. It doesn’t feel like that will be the case which means we may opt for a more active midfield based around work rate.
Could this be the time we see Xhaka, Guendouzi, and Ceballos? Normally, I may place Torreira in the mix, but given his injury that’s not an option. These three could offer high energy, work rate, and offer Arteta more flexibility to his game plan which will likely rely on a heavy dose of counterattack play.
Recently there has been a lot of questions around who should be taking up the right-wing role – Pepe or Nelson? Nelson put on a great display against Portsmouth using his pace to show clear direction and purpose, something that people have criticized Pepe for. Pepe offers incredible footwork and a keen ability to worm his way through areas surrounded by defenders but often lacks the ability to make something out of it. However, given the forecasted nature of this game, I expect him to be on the field looking to exploit the space on the counter.
He made a name for himself finding success on the counter before coming to the Premier League and Arsenal have seen glimpses of his ability when given space. I expect Arteta to strongly consider using that skill to grab a goal against a City team looking to push numbers forward.
Sokratis has been an interesting selection lately. Being asked to move outside of his normal role in the center, he has taken up the right back role for a struggling Hector Bellerin. While that has been met with questions, if I were placing myself in Arteta’s shoes there could be some justification.
We know that Arteta looks to have the right back tuck into the center of the field in an attempt to cover the backline, rather than having them look to overlap – leaving that to the left side and Bakayo Saka. By playing Sokratis in that role, you give yourself a better outright defender willingly sacrificing frequent overlap play, since that position doesn’t look to play that way often. While it arguably limits how dynamic we can be in the attack, it could offer more stability given the addition of Ceballos to the midfield, a player that looks to facilitate the attack and get forward.
Given the circumstances, I think that is something we will continue to see.
Pablo Mari has made two appearances for Arsenal and had two clean sheets in those appearances. Although there were multiple occasions that West Ham should have scored, and better teams likely would have, Mari has had moments of real promise. It may be too early to pass full judgement on the new center back, but we can complement him on the results he has helped us achieve. He offers a range of passing that Arteta looks for from that position, but there are some question marks around how he will handle pacier forwards. The jury is still out but there are certainly promising signs.
Given Mustafi’s injury and the recent selections of Luiz and Mari, I think that is something we could certainly see again against City.
Two days for preparations, two days to make alterations, and two days until another pivotal moment in Arsenal’s attempts to salvage their season. A point would be great, three would be incredible. Looking forward to seeing what Arteta has planned.