Arsenal vs Manchester City is already being touted as a season defining fixture for both clubs, with insurmountable pressure building on both squads. Regardless of the fact Arsenal are enjoying their best form in decades, before the season had started this would be a fixture many Arsenal fans would draw a line through as bit of a write off. They now have the unenviable task of playing them three times in three months. Not much has been made of this mouth-watering 4th round FA Cup clash, with both teams perennially focused on other competitions; but make no mistake, neither manager will want to lose this game.
Since his arrival in England, Pep has shown ruthless respect for the Domestic competitions, and his record is phenomenal. His loss to Southampton in the EFL Cup earlier this month was the first domestic quarter-final he’s lost, having previously held a record of 16 wins from 16 games. Ridiculous consistency.
Arteta achieved very early trophy success in his debut season as manager, winning the 2019/20 FA Cup but has since failed to retain any silverware, and should he go another season without a trophy (especially given their red-hot form) questions might begin to arise on how best to utilise his squad. It’s becoming clearer as each transfer window passes Edu and Arteta are seeking to copy Pep’s enviable squad depth, and attempt to field what is essentially two entirely different, yet elite, starting eleven.
City have gone out of the FA Cup in the semi-finals in each of the last three years (including a memorable 2-0 loss to Arsenal in 2020) since lifting the trophy in 2019 when they battered Watford 6-0. Arsenal limped out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round last year to a resolute Nottingham Forest team, having been knocked out by Southampton the year before.
Winning this game (peculiarly placed at 8pm on a Friday) will present both teams with benefits and problems. Winning would not only eliminate one of the favourites for the trophy and progress into the competition – which Arsenal have a deep history with – it also adds more fire to the psychological battle beginning to brew between Pep and Arteta. Master and Apprentice. Regardless of what both managers might say publicly, they are toiling away behind the scenes, seeking to find advantages, bonuses and methods of beating the other.
However, winning also means more fixtures in an already manic season. With more games comes the higher chance of injury, suspension, mental fatigue and travel. An FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton then an away leg in Madrid is the stuff of nightmares as the season reaches its apex. There is definitely a case to be made that should Arsenal lose this game in a reasonable manner, it would not be seen as a catastrophe.
I have a feeling both managers will play a strong starting eleven, stronger than both sets of fans might like. Arteta revealed in his press conference that Elneny has picked up an injury and there are slight concerns it could be significant. Other than that, he said there were no new injuries and stressed the importance of winning.
“It’s a big match, a big test against the best football team in the world.” – Mikel Arteta
Here’s how I think they’ll line up:
Arsenal Starting XI
Tomiyasu – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney
Viera – Partey – Xhaka
Saka – Nketiah – Trossard
Manchester City Starting XI
Walker – Akanji – Laporte – Gomez
De Bruyne – Phillips – Gundogan
Mahrez – Alvarez – Foden