There will be no De Bruyne pulling strings, no Rodri escaping bookings, no Gündoğan or Mahrez or, for that matter, Palmer to conjure something out of nothing. Still, we go into this fixture having lost the last twelve. While we have won a Community Shield and twice bested them in the FA Cup, you’d have to go all the way back to December 2015 to find a win in the Prem. Aside from City’s superiority and depth over just about every other squad in the multiverse, that track record poses a significant psychological hurdle.
It perhaps goes without saying that there’s not a single Arsenal player left from the squad that last defeated Man City in the Prem. I’m not a big fan of the long-term DNA way of looking at things, but there is something to be said about someone in the squad having experienced victory over a superior opponent…and we don’t have that. All we have at the moment is those eight years of inferiority and, of course, last season’s harrowing experience of having been ruthlessly and mercilessly hunted down.
The fact that De Bruyne and Rodri will be unavailable feels like tantalizing fruit indeed. After all, since Rodri’s suspension, City lost twice in the Prem. While losing at St. James’s Park is understandable, conceding twice to Wolves is something else altogether. With Rodri restored for City’s midweek match against RB Leipzig, it’s no surprise that CIty were more cohesive and dominant, coming away with a tidy 1-3 win.
Despite those enforced absences, we face a Sisypehan task, even if we are to be all full strength. Saka and Martinelli are in contention, it’s treu, but it still feels like that psychological hurdle would persist even if all our players were at 100%. It’s clear that Guardiola’s squad is deeper and better than ours, despite the aggressive outlay in the last few transfer windows. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all, and Guardiola inherited something Rome-adjacent before pumping countless millions if not billions into that sqaud (somewhere, in the back of my mind, I seem to remember some kind of kerfuffle about City’s spending. I must be imagining it.
Whatever the case may be, we simply have to hope that one of Saka or Martinelli is available. We’ve already seen how short of options we’ve been without Martinelli. Defenses know to focus their resources against Saka. Once Saka came up lame against Lens (a precautionary measure, we pray…), our opponents knew how to nullify our attack and had greater license to get up the pitch. It’s a lot easier to attack when your wingbacks don’t have to worry quite so much about their opposites getting in behind. For as much as we’ve all come to adore Trossard, and for as much as we aspire to feel the same for Vieira and Nelson, there’s still a considerable drop-off in attacking intent from Saka and Martinelli to them.
If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s in the idea tha we may finally see a Partey-Rice double-pivot. WIth De Bruyne and Rodri out of commission, there’s a sliver of a chance that this duo could orchestrate if not quite dominate the midfield, offering whoever our attacking trio may be greater freedom while also creating a few chances and scoring opportunities of their own along the way. One could even make the argument that Partey’s availability could make way for a formation that’s closer to a 4-2-3-1, with Partey and Rice at the base, Havertz on the left, Ødegaard central, Saka or Vieira on the right, and Jesus through the middle. I don’t like the idea of tinkering ahead of such a colossal clash, but we have to play the cards we’re dealt.
Pep, as always, will have a few cards up his sleeves. That’s to be expected when every card you hold is an ace. Even without a few of those aces, we’ll have to be prepared for his minions.
Of course, should we find anything short of an emphatic victory, we’ll have to brace ourselves for a week’s worth of torrid headllines full of randomly CAPITALISED words about how we’ve BOTTLED it once AGAIN and how Man City will WALTZ to a FOURTH consecutive Prem TITLE.
Hm. That capitalising thing is rather addictive if not effective. Nota bene: consider using this technique in future.
Having blathered on thus far, I do see a glimmer of light, maybe even enough to predict a 2-1 victory. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again more often tham I’m right, but I have a good feeling about this one. Share your thoughts in the comments-section below…