We wished for it and now, finally, it’s back.
The Premier League returns this Wednesday and our Arsenal are the headline act on opening night.
Trouble is, we are facing Manchester City away from home – so in terms of chances for a positive result, we are going to be up against it.
Pepe Guardiola’s City outfit may have almost relinquished their grip on the Premier League title, but their strength cannot be denied. On their day, they are still the best team in the competition and for us to walk away from The Etihad unscathed? We will have to be at our very best.
Our last game against them ended 3-0 to the Citizens, but this was during the fallout from Unai Emery, with Freddie Ljungberg attempting to help us off the deck in the short term.
Mikel Arteta will have no doubt done his homework and there is no other side he knows better other than his own.
He has the inner workings of Pep’s coaching and tactics underneath that quite fantastic hairstyle and it could prove to be the secret weapon that allows us to pull the rug from under City and disappear from their home with the points.
With just ten games left for us to climb the table in pursuit of the top4, every mistake will have big ramifications for us.
Who will Arteta call on to grab the points?
Both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette featured in our behind-closed-doors friendlies last week – but Laca did not start both games whereas Auba did. This means that Arteta was keen to get our leading scorer this season as sharp as possible, with Laca possibly starting from the bench.
Gabriel Martinelli was also used sparingly for these friendlies too, the young Brazilian could also be another who is benched, but what a great option to have if the game is creeping toward a conclusion and we need a goal?
In terms of midfield, Joe Willock featured heavily in our warm-ups, but the Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos pivot has been very effective – especially pre-lockdown. Arteta has been leaning towards a 4-3-3 however, so Willock could yet be utilised.
Lucas Torreira is fit and raring to go, but having recovered during lockdown, match sharpness will have eluded him. The Uruguayan will most likely miss out here.
In defence, David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi have been the preferred option for our manager, but Pablo Mari is another option to call upon and is fit. Calum Chambers is still missing, as is loanee Cedric Soares – although we could have our first choice wing-backs playing – Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin are both fit.
That means that breakthrough star Bukayo Saka could miss out, which would be criminal. Where will Saka play? Arteta used him in a 4-3-3 against Brentford. Wherever he is, Saka must start.
Player to Watch
The Algerian was just starting to find his groove under Guardiola before lockdown began. The winger started more games and really began to exert his influence on games. Mahrez still faces competition for his place, but whomever faces him, will have their work cut out. He can change a game with a cross and he often cuts in to great effect.
How this could go
This could go….badly. Did you catch the highlights of our friendly against Brentford? Those last ten minutes wouldn’t have looked out of place in a gory horror movie.
Make no mistake, if we behave even a small percentage as we did in that game – we will get absolutely destroyed on the pitch. But fear not, for the game was more of a training exercise. We will be better for this game.
Arteta knows how Pep will set up and can counter. Will we set up on the break? Will we pack the midfield? The key to this is space.
If we pressure, if we believe what Arteta was saying during lockdown that he ensured his players were doing everything to stay fit – we need to use that. We cannot give them a yard.
We have the players to compete, but any blips in concentration and we will suffer.
The problem with picking a winner is that after this long of a time without a game, no one knows how both teams will show up and perform.
All we can hope for is that our boys are switched on. After such a long break, they should be raring to go.
Predicted Lineup – Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka, Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang
Predicted Scoreline – 3-2 to The Arsenal