You weren’t dreaming, Arsenal did finally win their first match since October 24th. In fact it was just the second win for the Gunners since early of October. After a slow half, Arsenal jumped to life and fans were treated to three goals in a come-from-behind London derby victory. The win lifted the club into 9th place, just two points out of fifth.
A midweek match against Standard Liege is up next, but looming in the distance is the Premier League champions Manchester City. Arsenal host a City side on Sunday who have also found it hard to keep a clean sheet as of late - giving up goals in their last night matches. We chatted with Saul Garcia from Bitter and Blue to get a feel for how things are going at Manchester City, his thoughts on the season thus far and a prediction for the game.
TSF: Heading into the match, City have just two wins from their last seven games. Is this is good time for Arsenal to be facing them, or should the Gunners’ fans expect a thrashing as Pep looks to bounce back from the Manchester Derby?
B&B: Pep and his men have suffered some rare adverse results recently. For Arsenal, combined with their recent win, it’s a good time to face City. The rash of injuries has decimated City just about everywhere. From Rodri, Fernandiñho and Ederson earlier this season, to Aguero, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko, Mendy and David Silva now. It should be a fairly balanced match.
TSF: Manchester City have suffered several injuries in their defense, which has tested their depth. With the resources at their disposal, why do you think new defenders weren’t signed in the summer?
B&B: Ah yes, the injuries. Pep was and is notoriously stubborn and despite valid links with Harry Maguire and a couple others, Pep felt he had enough with Laporte and a rotating cast of subpar CB’s. He could not have anticipated the injury bug that eliminated all CB’s for some portions of the young season. That’s led to playing Fernandiñho at CB which has been ok, but has showed how much he is missed in the midfield.
B&B: For January, I expect.... nothing. Pep has been surprisingly adamant he will not make rash decisions in January’ transfer window. (ie. overpay for Koulibaly.) That, combined with scrutiny from UEFA over the summer about a myriad of issues, makes me think City probably stay put until the summer window.
TSF: Are you more surprised that Arsenal, United & Spurs have had slow starts to the year or that Leicester City is in 2nd place, six points ahead of Man City?
B&B: Yes, lol. Those 3 have had a history of under performing recently. And on the flip side Leicester have had a history of over performing. So neither really surprised me.
TSF: With 16 games played, City is now 14 points behind Liverpool. Do you still see a path for them to retain the title this year?
B&B: I do! I know sounds crazy, but if anyone could do it, it’s Pep. Last year they overcame 11 points in roughly 3ish months so definitely could again. Albeit more points, but more time too. It’d have to start around Boxing Day with City going undefeated during that period and Liverpool having at least one maybe two adverse results.
TSF: If the league slips away, could we see Pep shift his full focus towards the Champions League, resting key players for those matches?
B&B: I don’t think so, Pep for whatever reason has made sure we as fans and the media know he values Premier League over Champions League. And he won’t deem the league “over” until very late in the season which would be after UCL knockout matches.
TSF: Angelino, Rodri and Joao Canelo were the three first-team signings this summer that didn’t go out on loan. Of the three, who has shown the most so far to indicate they have the brightest future at City?
B&B: It’s probably a tie between Angeliño and Rodri. Both have had ups and downs but unlike Canceló they’ve played much more. Angeliño has been thrust into the starting lineup with Zinchenko and Mendy out and has performed decently after some early struggles. Rodri has done the same playing where we usually have Fernandiñho, it’s been a learn by fire approach by Pep. And the results have shown that inconsistency as he still learns some of Pep’s directives for that spot. Canceló has had Kyle Walker in front of him and as a result his time has been limited to a couple spot starts and League Cup action.
TSF: As Arsenal go the managerial search process again, how long do City fans believe Pep will stay at the club?
B&B: I and many fans truly believe he’ll stay the duration of his contract, until summer of 2021. So, this season and one more. That’s because he believes in this project and has had an embarrassment of riches both in the transfer window and with his salary.
TSF: Give us your predicted starting XI for this weekend’s match and the formation Arsenal fans can expect to see Man City deploy.
B&B: A 4-3-3. Ederson, Walker-Fernandiñho-Otamendi-Angeliño, Gundogan-Rodri-Bernardo, Mahrez-Jesus-Sterling
TSF: Scoreline prediction?
B&B: 0-1 Manchester City win. City still have more talent and I think that’ll win out here.
Thanks to Saul and Bitter & Blue for answering our questions.