Sunday’s match against Manchester City at The Etihad has the makings of a really bad day at the office for the Arsenal. City must win to stay in touch with Liverpool and keep their dwindling title hopes alive. Arsenal have lost 11 of 19 away Premier League matches and have kept only one clean sheet in that period. City haven’t conceded at the Etihad in a month and have scored 24 over that same period. Arsenal’s defense is being held together by scotch tape and dreams. Unai Emery has never beaten Pep Guardiola (0-4-7).
So how do the Gunners flip the script? What does an unlikely draw / highly improbable win look like?
We discussed those questions throughout the week, and I don’t think you’re going to like the consensus answer. I’ll start by telling you the paths that won’t lead to an Arsenal result.
The first is parking the bus. We’re all quite familiar with Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis at this point. Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are out for the season. Sokratis is out for at least three more weeks. Makeshift right back Ainsley Maitland-Niles is being evaluated ahead of the game. Mercifully, Laurent Koscielny should be available for selection after taking a boot to the jaw and needing minor surgery to alleviate some blood clotting. But it almost doesn’t matter who is fit and who isn’t for a match against City. Does anybody believe that Arsenal have a combination of players that can keep City off the scoreboard for an entire game?
The second is getting into a shootout. Arsenal have scored 4 or more in the Premier League just three times this season. Twice against Fulham, the worst defensive side in the league, and once against 10-man Tottenham. City have done it five times. They are better at scoring in bunches. I don’t see a tactical plan that would allow the Gunners to get even to three goals without opening them up to five or six. Denis Suárez, who is expected to make his Arsenal debut, won’t change that. Do you think that if it came down to trading goals with City, Arsenal would come out on top?
So if Arsenal aren’t likely to win a defensive struggle, and they aren’t likely to win a goal-fest, what does that leave them? Not much.
An Arsenal result on Sunday will require a good bit of luck. Something unlikely and unexpected will need to happen. I don’t see any normal, conventional path to points for the Gunners. It will take an early two goal lead, a City sending off, Bernd Leno inexplicably turning into a combination of Gianluigi Buffon and Lev Yashin, Pep Guardiola employing some sort of avant-garde tactics involving playing Sergio Agüero in goal, Kevin De Bruyne at centerback, and the injured Vincent Kompany at striker (although let’s be honest, he would probably manage a headed goal anyway). Something weird like that.
In all seriousness, for Arsenal to have a shot, I think they absolutely must score early. As in within the first 10-15 minutes of the game early. They need something to unsettle City, to knock them off stride, and to push them off their gameplan. Three points from Sunday’s match is an absolute must for the Citizens, so if the Gunners can force them to press (not in the high-press sense but in the trying too hard sense), frustrate them into mistakes, and get the crowd anxious, they could steal a result.
It ain’t likely, but that’s why they play the games, right?
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Manchester City
WHERE: The Etihad
WHEN: Sunday, February 3rd 8:30 AM PT | 11:30 AM ET | 4:30 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN. Stream here.
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