Tactical preview: Man City v Arsenal
Can Arsenal land a big punch and take back the title race initiative?
It may not feel like it but, for now, Arsenal still have everything in their own hands. It just requires a win at Manchester City. A five-point gap can obviously disappear with Manchester City’s games in hand but Wednesday’s game means Arsenal do have one more chance, to swing the title race back in their own favour off the back of three disappointing draws in a row.
Nobody really expects that at the moment and it’s easy to understand why, with confidence rocked and William Saliba missing, but just 240 minutes of football ago, these exact players were two goals up and dominating at Anfield. They are capable of playing top level football, even without Saliba in defence.
History is not in Arsenal’s favour. The dismal record against City in recent years aside, teams don’t really win these title showdowns away from home. Since Chelsea, won 2-1 at Manchester United in April 2010, they lost the same fixture 13 months later, then United lost at City a year after that. City lost at Liverpool in April 2014 but went on to win the title anyway. Liverpool lost 2-1 at City in January 2019, too early to be considered a title race decider, and then drew 2-2 there 12 months ago as the race went down to the final day.
A win would be huge, a defeat would feel fatal, and it never really works for anyone to play a top side away from home and hope for a draw. In this case, now, even that wouldn’t do a great deal for Arsenal’s hopes.
“Even if you don’t drop the points we dropped in the last games, nothing changes – it’s a final. Each game is a final, we have to face them like a final. This is the most important game of the season for us.” - Gabriel Jesus
Since the start of last season, City have won 28 of their 34 Premier League home games, losing to Crystal Palace (when the hosts played a half with 10 men) and Tottenham last season, then Brentford this season.
But I really don’t think Arsenal have any choice but to go all-out and try to win the game. And, while I don’t necessarily think it’s going to happen, I do still believe we can turn up at the Etihad and win this week. I think Bayern Munich caused City more problems than most people realised — more on that in a bit — and with a little more efficiency and quality in the final third both of their recent games against them could have gotten interesting.
The big questions for Arsenal surround Rob Holding and the defence. Will Mikel Arteta stick with him? If not, what are the alternatives?
When Saliba got injured I was in favour of replacing him with Jorginho and playing Thomas Partey at right-back. I still would have liked to have seen this tried but it’s hard to imagine pulling that move, having not done it before, in this game.
Likewise if we want to suddenly drop a five-man backline. You can imagine it on paper but it would inhibit the ability of Saka — our biggest threat — to exploit City’s biggest weakness, assuming Nathan Aké is unavailable.