“I want to see a team that plays with the character and personality that we have shown in recent months,” stated Mikel. “I want us to keep continue maintaining that line.”
“If we do that, we will cause problems to any team. But we need to do that from the beginning. We obviously want to show other teams respect but still be true to ourselves.”
At the moment, causing problems to a team like Manchester City may be a lot easier said than done. “I think they are the best team in Europe at the moment,” he said. “The way they’re performing, the football they’re playing and their consistent results.
Consistency is a team-trait that this Arsenal side are still working on, and just one of the aspects that separates them from a side like Manchester City. Aside from that, the droves of talent and experience that City boasts has seen them win 17 matches in a row in all competitions and go 24 matches unbeaten. It’s also seated them at the top of the Premier League table and running away with the league.
Arsenal on the other hand find themselves six points off the top six and in the midst of a relentless run of matches that seem to be becoming more crucial to their season by the day. The fanbase is split over which competition should be the priority at this point because achieving something in either can feel like a far reaching pipe dream.
The result? Arsenal needing to find ways to rotate the squad, limited fatigue, and get every result they can to stay alive in both. With the Gunners failing to get points against Villa and Wolverhampton, getting something from today’s match with City would go a long way, even if the likelihood of that feels small.
Arteta opted not to rotate a single player between their Leeds match and Benfica in his pursuit of a good first leg in the Europa League. A 1-1 draw isn’t the worst outcome, but it leaves a lot of work left to do in the second leg if Arsenal want to progress. Suddenly Arsenal are staring down the barrel of six straight major matches between now and the end of March: City, Benfica (2nd leg), Leicester City, Burnley, Tottenham, and West Ham.
Four of the next five Premier League matches come against teams ahead of Arsenal, which make them major opportunities to take an active role in their own future while landing blows against direct opposition for top 5 placement.
For this match against City I have two major things worth keeping tabs on: what kind of performance can can the selected side provide, and how much rotation is there?
Important players are covering an immense amount minutes for the Gunners and it’s reaching a point every match that you begin to question if they have enough juice in the tank. Three players often looked at are Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Ødegaard. Ødegaard hasn’t played a lot of minutes for Arsenal, but he also hasn’t played a lot of minutes all season. If the intent to finish this year is to select more lineups with both Smith Rowe and Ødegaard on the field, their natural rest and rotation with one another becomes a bit more tricky.
So, how does Arteta balance this result with the rest of the season and what lineup does that lead to? Something we will find out shortly.
Left hamstring. Thomas is progressing well from a strain to his hamstring against Aston Villa on 6 February and will continue to be assessed ahead of Sunday’s match.
Left knee. Alex sustained a strain to his knee in training and is undergoing further assessment.
The Partey news continues to be a serious source of disappointment. His absence has left Arsenal with the same inadequate midfield last year had for much of this season.
On a positive note, Arsenal were able to sub Kieran Tierney into the match against Benfica and put a few minutes into his legs. It will be interesting to see if he is returned to the starting lineup against City or if Arteta believes he could do with a few extra days before the second leg against Benfica.
It may not be the major rotation that some people were looking for, but its rotation in some key areas. It gives Smith Rowe, Aubameyang and Saka rest while putting Lacazette, Martinelli, and Pepe in — all three of whom have been waiting for their next chance to prove themselves.
It maintains the midfield three that has had some success in the past few matches, although some of this selection is down to the lack of options at this point. If this is the team selected, it could see Ødegaard need to be rested against Benfica in the second leg of their Europa League tie, but Arsenal may have to cross that bridge when the time comes.
In back, it leaves some semblance of consistency. The return of Tierney would be a huge boost for a defense that will have to come ready to really work. It’s going to have to be a complete match from that backline.
This is the lineup that Arteta may look to as he continues to push the team toward gaining experience in a more attacking shape and one that comes closer to how he likely foresees his team play, but I will toss out this side consideration: If Arsenal are looking to give Emile Smith Rowe, Ødegaard, Saka, and even Aubameyang a rest so that they can compete against Benfica, Leicester and beyond, there may be grounds for a one match return to a 3-4-3 formation.
It’s a shape that has gone extremely poorly for Arsenal this year, but one that lead them to the FA Cup, including a win over Manchester City. Arsenal aren’t capable of overpowering City, especially not the form City has been in, but they may have a shot at containing City, keeping the margins close, and taking a chance at grabbing something. In that case, Ødegaard would be sacrificed and someone like Holding or Mari would come on.
It probably wouldn’t be a fan favorite, but it may be a pragmatic solution to two Arsenal problems with one lineup: fatigue and City’s attack. Just a thought.
It’s going to be a tough match, but it also should be an opportunity to learn about this team, regardless of the result. Obviously this is sport so you are judged by the results you bring to the table, but there are aspects of growth to pay attention to that go beyond the score line.
I do expect Arsenal to battle for 90 minutes. I expect them to give a game and keep it close. I expect Arsenal to commit themselves to the task of containing City and looking to shut key playmakers down. While there may be few chances created, I expect Arsenal to create a few and at least test City’s defenders and make their lives difficult. From there, we see what things we can take away from how Arsenal play.
Prediction: 2-1 City