Gunner Thoughts

Challenge Level HARD: Playing City in Full Form

Arsenal have struggled this season to head into their matchups with City in full form, but they can at least get back to winning ways.

Would you rather have played Manchester City first in October?

It’s a question that’s been bouncing around my head, even with the complete knowledge that it’s a futile, answer-less question. But Arsenal originally were slated to play their home fixture versus City in mid-October. The 18th to be exact.

The reason it seems to be wrecking my head like Thing 1 is because Thing 2 is the other question rocketing around the dome: were we in a better place in October?

Had the original match happened then, it would have occurred at a time in which Arsenal were 9 wins (1 loss) into the Premier League season and kicking off with a 12-0-1 record. The team were in good form, they were missing Zinchenko, but riding high.

On one hand, perhaps that October team feels no pressure and only rides the high of their great start to the season to get a result. On the other hand, I wonder if that match stood to disrupt the confidence and form this team started with had they lost. Would Arsenal have continued their winning habits if they felt the sting of their fierce competitor early in the season?

As I said, there’s no “right” answer to the question. But the reality that occurred for this Arsenal side was a date with Manchester City in the second half of the season, without Thomas Partey and Gabriel Jesus, with Saliba trying to recapture his best form post-World Cup, and at the tail end of their longest winless streak of the season.

It’s a matchup you want your best eleven stepping onto the field for, and one you want confidence to be sky-high in before the whistle. If winning is a habit as Arteta says, you don’t want anything interfering with that habit. After losing to City in the FA Cup, just about every fan said, we need to win our matches versus Everton and Brentford before welcoming City to the Emirates. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Arsenal’s first Premier League matchup with City, and it won’t be the case for their second matchup with City.

This time around, Arsenal will have two defeating draws in their recent past which means getting a win versus Southampton not only feels necessary for points on the table but for confidence.

And, hey, if a draw at Anfield with two nice goals provides the belief that this team can walk into the Etihad and get at least a draw, I will throw my hands up in celebration and say, “Not ideal, they did it the hard way, but they did it”.

But the teams needs something in the tank for that game. They need the winning habit back. They probably need Mikel to create something a little different for them to feel like they aren’t going to trot out the same ol’ same ol’ versus City. Will we see that versus Southampton? My guess: no.

But that doesn’t mean things aren’t being held close to the chest.

Mikel Arteta: Injury Coy Boy

With everybody looking for all the good news and boosts of confidence possible, Arteta delivered a heavy punch of reality in his prematch press conference.

As usual, Arteta delivered his injury updates on Zinchenko and Saliba with that coy vagueness that tickles and infuriates.

Zinchenko appeared in training footage and photos, plans perhaps unknown to Arteta before his press conference.

“We’ll see about that one [Zinchenko] as well, it’s not certain. It’s a muscular injury and it needs some time to heal and we’re not there yet.”

Obviously, this is not an outright lie, but this reticent response leaves two outcome:

  1. Zinchenko plays tomorrow and then, barring injury, again versus City
  2. He is practicing and close but kept out an additional match to get ready for City

It wouldn’t be totally irrational if Arteta believes his team is capable of dispatching Southampton at home with a perfectly capable Kieran Tierney.

The painful point of intrigue came with his Saliba update.

“Regarding William, we still have to wait a little bit more. He’s not progressing as quickly as we hoped and it is a bit delicate so we want to be certain that when we push him, he’s ready to absorb the load and the risk that we’ll take, and that’s not possible at the moment.”

“I don’t know, it’s a bit early to know. Probably next week we’ll have more certainty. There is some evolution, he’s doing more activity but is not there yet to start to throw him into the pitch at the level the sessions demand to compete in this league.”

If I’m reading this with my head, it suggests that Saliba is unlikely to feature against City. Sure, he doesn’t need an immense amount of training time for us to feel comfortable with him being selected, but the fact that he has done none whatsoever is problematic.

If I’m reading it with my heart, it’s one that hopes Arteta is keeping this one as close to the chest as humanly possible to keep Pep guessing and preparing for a variety of Arsenal options.

What will be interesting to see is what/how Arteta plays coming weeks. Are things close to the chest? Does he look at the recent results, in terms of performance, and look to make changes? Does get go ‘all in’ and look to a ‘galaxy brain’ solution in an attempt to really catch a team like City off guard?

It doesn’t feel likely that we will see that versus Southampton, better to keep it entirely under wraps, if there is going to be a change. But it’s not impossible to foresee Arteta attempting to get his best eleven players on pitch, whatever that formation looks like.

Step one: recapture winning form and a bit of confidence before City and keep ourselves in the race.

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