Arsenal kick off an extremely compressed portion of the schedule on Saturday with a trip to face Manchester City. The Gunners have 7 games in 21 days, including hosting Leicester City, another trip to Manchester to face United, and a jaunt to Austria to take on Rapid Wien in the Europa League. Getting a couple of results in the league from this tough stretch would leave Arsenal sitting pretty.
The big question heading into Saturday’s match, and for the rest of the season, really, is what is Mikel Arteta’s preferred formation. I think the back three he has deployed recently and during the restart was more out of necessity because of injuries and available personnel than an indication of how he wants to deploy his side. And while there will always be a degree of flexibility based on opponent, I think Arteta would prefer to play four at the back.
But it’s tough to say how he’ll line his side up to face City, in part because Kieran Tierney’s status is up in the air, and it’s not clear whether Thomas Partey will be ready to play with his new teammates. On Partey, I think part of the reason he was brought in was to enable Arsenal to play four at the back — not because he’s a defensive stopper, but because his elite ball progression will relieve pressure on the back line. But he may not be ready to start.
On Tierney, Arsenal are doing all they can to get him released from his 14-day quarantine mandated by his close contact with Stuart Armstrong, who tested positive for COVID-19. Tierney tested negative both before and after his contact with Armstrong, and there has been a suggestion that he may have tested positive a few months back, which may (or may not) be significant for immunity purposes.
Predicted Starting XI
- Eddie Nketiah
- Bukayo Saka
- Nicolas Pepe
- Thomas Partey
- Mohamed Elneny
- Alex Runarsson
Notes on the XI:
- I think the formation turns on Tierney’s availability. If he can play, I think Arteta deploys a back four of Tierney, Gabriel, Luiz, Bellerin and gets Bukayo Saka into the midfield for the extra attacking punch with Ainsley Maitland-Niles shifting to the right side.
- I’m assuming that Thomas Partey is not ready to start, but if he does, I could see a midfield three of Partey, Xhaka, and Ceballos (and I’d bet we do see that at some point this season). We know how important building from the back and progressing the ball up the pitch is to Mikel Arteta’s setup, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we see three guys who do that play together. My only concern with that setup is a potential lack of width.
- Injured: Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel Martinelli, Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers
- Left out: Reiss Nelson, William Saliba, Mesut Özil, Cedric Soares, Sokratis, Emile Smith Rowe
How to watch
Saturday (10/17) at 9:30 AM PT | 12:30 PM ET | 7:30 PM BT on NBC.