Wednesday night, under the Emirates floodlights, Arsenal face their biggest test of the season; the reigning Premier League Champions, Manchester City.
This is the game of the season. The top two sides in the country, clashing in an evening game at one of the loudest stadiums in England this season in what has the potential to be a title decider. What more could you want?
Whoever wins will be in the driving seat of determining this season’s title race. With Arsenal sitting top of the league, three points clear of the Citizens with a game in hand, it is the definition of a ‘six-pointer’ game.
A win for the Gunners would give Mikel Arteta some breathing space from his old employers, and give him and his inexperienced side the confidence that they can deliver Arsenal a first league title since the ‘Invincibles’ season back in 2004.Embed from Getty Images
The Arsenal boss will look to the Emirates faithful to provide his youthful side with the extra motivation – not that much more motivation is needed when you are playing for a Premier League title. The Emirates has been a fortress for the Gunners this season who are yet to lose a game in N7 and have dropped just four points this season at home in two draws against Newcastle and Brentford.
In fact, the last time Arteta’s men lost a league game at home was their 2-1 defeat to City back in January 2022. If Arsenal is going to secure their first victory over the Citizens in North London since the 21st December 2016 they will certainly need the resurgent Emirates crowd on their side.
“The atmosphere we are generating at the Emirates is incredible.
“We’ll play with 15 players tomorrow!
“They are so into it with every single ball and giving us energy and support, and basically everything they have been doing.
“Let’s enjoy it, a beautiful night on a really special day.”
With the reserve away fixture still to be played, as well as recent points dropped in recent weeks to Brentford and relegation-battling Everton, Arteta will be yearning for a victory.
Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola will be desperate to win in N7 amidst Manchester City being charged 101 times by the Premier League for rule breaches. It would see his side of veteran winners go top of the league on goal difference and strike a keen psychological blow over Arsenal’s young Gunners.
Guardiola was full of admiration for his ex-assistant manager’s resurgent Arsenal team. The City boss said ahead of the tie with Arsenal:
“So far they are the best team in the Premier League, they made an incredible first round, the first leg of the league.
“We felt it a few weeks ago when we played in the FA Cup here, how committed, sharp and everything.”
“It will be a big, big battle in every department.”
A stalemate would serve City more than it would the hosts, especially given the talks of crisis at the Eithad just a few weeks ago. A draw in what will be a hostile environment would not necessarily be a bad result for City, especially considering Arsenal are yet to travel to the Etihad Stadium for a league tie.
However, City has usually enjoyed this fixture in their league campaigns, with Guardiloa’s racking up a 12-1 aggregate score in their last five meetings.
The FA Cup Fifth Round clash at the Eithad back in late January which Guardiola alluded to, was a chess battle between two like-minded tacticians. But in the six meetings between the two Spaniards, the City boss has come out victorious five times.
Whilst City came 1-0 victors on that occasion, there was a sense that while Guardiola had set up his strongest side, Arteta had rested some of his best players, notably captain Martin Odegard, William Silbia and Olesankder Zinchenko.
A re-run of the game at the Eithad is more unlikely than where it seemed until the last twenty minutes when Arsenal brought on their big guns and pushed to remain in the cup, that this was a pre-season friendly played at a low tempo.
Arteta will certainly not be resting his reliable starting eleven this time out. The Gunners have named the two most common starting XIs in the 2022-23 Premier League, one with injured talisman Gabriel Jesus and one with his replacement Eddie Nkethia.
Such is Arteta’s consistency that any Arsenal fan can list off their team’s starting eleven even before it has been announced and it is unlikely to change in the tie against City.
The only real headache for the Arsenal boss in terms of his starting selection has been the introduction of Leonard Trossard, who scored his first goal for the gunners in their draw with Brentford, after coming off of the bench early into the second half. The Belgian will feel hard done by not to start over Gabrielle Martinelli who has failed to score in his last seven appearances.
“Obviously we are looking to give players opportunities that they deserve.
“You talked about Leo [Leonard Trossard] – we’re talking about anybody who has had minutes in this league.
“There will be changes – it will happen and very soon.”
Arsenal’s predicted starting XI: Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Partey, Odegaard, Xhaka; Saka, Nketiah, Trossard.
Meanwhile, Guardiola’s team selections are as hard to predict as ever, much to the frustration of fantasy football enthusiasts. But to the delight of Arsenal one of his side mainstays and top goal scorer, Erling Haaland, looks set to miss the crucial title clash due to injury.
The Norwegian, who has scored 25 goals in 20 games this season, was substituted in the first half of City’s 3-1 victory over Aston Villa after picking up a knock. With a tight schedule ahead, including ever-important Champions League games, Guardiola will want to prevent any further damage to his prized striker.
“I think he’s not injured but tomorrow we will see.
“Hopefully he can play there on Wednesday.”
“If he’s not ready or it’s a risk he’s not going to play.”
Manchester City predicted starting XI: Ederson; Walker; Dias; Laporte; Ake; Rodri; Silva; De Bruyne; Mahrez, Grealish; Haaland.
Wednesday night’s game has the potential to go down in Premier League folklore. All the ingredients are there for a recipe for a simply spellbinding evening of football.