After a three-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, English top-flight football returns and first up for Arsenal is a trip up north for their Premier League clash against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Good day one and all.
While he had to wait a bit longer than expected, this will be a special night for Mikel Arteta when he squares up to Pep Guardiola; whom he worked alongside for three-and-a-half years before an emotional farewell back in December.
However, there will be no time for sentiments as the Gunners need to hit the ground running if they have designs on playing in Europe next season. Qualifying for the Europa League will, of course, be minimum requirement but also a win here will put us in the mix for a Champions League spot. More so with City’s European ban; currently subject to appeal before the CAS.
Arsenal had a good run prior to the lockdown – an eight-match unbeaten league streak since the turn of the year, including three wins on the bounce from our last three outings – and will be eager to pick up where they left off. But with the break having halted that upswing in form, it did gave Arteta more time to impose his ideas and philosophy on the squad. We were all kept updated on their regular zoom conferences, they were also one of the first PL teams to return to training. Now we just need to bring it all together as we map our way forward.
The lockdown would have came at a good time for Pep who, by his high standards, was not having a particularly good season; City’s current seven defeats is already the most in a single league campaign spanning his managerial career.
The three-month break will have filled him with renewed vigour though. So neither the certitude of Liverpool winning the PL title nor the European ban hanging over their heads will be a let off from his competitive streak as he will appreciate this challenge from his former apprentice.
Looking at the respective home and away form: the Citizens have taken 13 points from their last five games at the Etihad (4W, 1D), while the Gunners have won just one of their last 12 on the road; the last five all ending in draws.
This is a fixture dominated by the home side in recent seasons; winning each of the last six meetings across all competitions. The most recent a 3-0 victory at the Emirates in December, with Arteta in the opposing dugout five days before taking over the reigns at the Gunners.
So one would be forgiven for having City down as favourites. However, as we now enter the post-lockdown stage it brings with it a cocktail of interesting dynamics as well as unfamiliarities; comparative match fitness, quiet stadia with artificial crowd noise only for the benefits of tv viewers, walk-on stadium music, no ball boys, awareness to maintain distance during goal celebrations, no crowding of match officials and five-subs which will certainly impact tactical approach. Phew! We sure are entering a new world.
Both sides have seen a number of injury concerns cleared up during the lockdown. While Mancity have a fully fit squad available, tonight may come too soon for Arsenal’s Lucas Torreira and Calum Chambers. But they’re both likely to feature before the end of the season.
All things considered, the Citizens are favourites but Mikel Arteta knows Pep Guardiola and his side better than anyone and got an opportunity to show his former employers that he got a few tricks of his own up his sleeve.
Make no mistake, this is massive game for the Gunners. A win here and we can ride high into the final stretch of the season… drop points and it will be a tough grind. COYG!