Noted old man and occasional journalist Tony Evans was in the news this week, complaining what he called the “Arsenalification” of football—that is, teams that put attacking over the importance of basic defending. Never mind that defending from old school games was rubbish, you can imagine Evans will be back on this should Arsenal “do an Arsenal” in a big game and get hammered by Manchester City.
Arsenal never actually do “an Arsenal.” Oh, we are told that they do an Arsenal, but that only has meaning once there is act of difference. To be doing “an Arsenal,” there has to be an object of comparison; of difference. For many theorists, this difference has its origin in sexuality, gender and/or race (Judith Butler, Luce Irrigay, et al). But here, the difference has something to do with “big games” which itself is problematic—what defines a big game?
If Arsenal roll up to the Etihad on Sunday, and facing the best team in the country, a team that has scored 35 in 10 games and has a goal difference of 29, and duly get hammered, we will be told they are “doing an Arsenal.” But what they’ll really do is get beaten by the best team in the country.
Of course, Arsenal could beat City; they have before, beating City in the FA Cup semi-final in April. While this is a stronger Manchester City team, Arsenal will have the attacking quartet of Aaron Ramsey, Alexis, Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette. The key will be giving those four the support to attack, and so not only will Granit Xhaka be necessary to sit, he’ll need to have support from the wing backs and centre backs. If Kolasinac is fit, Monreal’s propensity to win the ball back quickly from centre back will be crucial.
Yet Arsenal are going to be tested. Manchester City have Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, and only one may start. Only three of David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané might start. City have a lot of weapons, and a system that gets their best players in positions to cause damage. And they’re defending better too, with a year of acclimation to Pep Guardiola’s methods.
Arsenal are often defined by what they are not; in the very absence of what they are not, a difference is created. Sunday is a chance, either way, to define that absence.
WHAT: Manchester City v Arsenal, Etihad Stadium
WHEN: Sunday, November 5, 2:15 PM GMT | 9:15 AM EST | 6:15 AM PST (clocks go back on Saturday night in the US)
WATCH: NBCSN, NBC Live Extra
Outside of the US, check out livesoccer.tv for streaming options (please do not share any illegal streams here)