On another day, Aubameyang puts away his tap in and perhaps Arsenal sees out an easy 2-0 victory. Upon seeing the same starting 11, we probably expected the same dominant attack as we witnessed against Leeds. Could we have used Pepe, Martinelli, and Lacazette for a full half-hour to see how that trio fared? To rest key players for Sunday? Either way the Europa League tie is still well within control, but first a daunting task at the Emirates this weekend.
With Manchester City, you know what to expect. 10 points clear at the top of the table, the presumptive champions this season are on an incredible 17-match winning streak. The last time they lost was November 21st... 24 matches ago. The last time Arsenal beat City in the league was 2015. If you are looking for bright spots, (a) the Gunners managed a 2-0 win last year over Man City in the FA Cup, (b) last weekend the attack came out of the gates quickly in the league against Leeds & (c) Arteta’s side has responded in big league matches lately (win over Chelsea and draw against United).
Unfortunately, the match has been given the Peacock Premium treatment rather than NBC where Liverpool vs. Everton landed this weekend. With the same 11 featured again in Thursday’s draw, we should hopefully see a bit of rotation on Sunday.
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Mohamed Elneny
- David Luiz
- Mat Ryan
- Left Out: Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, & Alex Runarsson
- Out: Thomas Partey (hamstring)
- The 11 against Leeds were great and you could easily make the case that they deserve to start again despite failing to hit those same highs against Benfica. However, the same XI for three matches in a week? Manchester City offers a different challenge than Leeds or Benfica, and we should have an important returnee.
- Tierney has now been back in full training for about a week and should see his return on Sunday, hopefully from the start. He may not be able to go the full 90, but he’s needed against City, plus this gives him a run out before perhaps being called on again in the second leg against Benfica. Cedric has filled in nicely while playing out of his natural position, providing the assist on Thursday (along with a nice pass from Odegaard).
- Also on the backline I’d bring in Rob Holding in place of David Luiz to face off against the pacey and interchanging Manchester City attack.
- Upfront Arsenal may need Alexandre Lacazette to help provide hold-up play against City and his presence in the box when Arsenal’s fullbacks get the ball forward. It’s tough to drop any of the front four, but this seems like the right spot for Lacazette to come back in. Or will Arteta prefer Aubameyang to lead the line again, sticking with the same trio behind him or an adjustment to the wingers?
- Similarly, how do you pick between starting Smith Rowe or Odegaard in the 10 roles, or keep both to start the game looking for a return of the magic against Leeds? You could make the case that going up against City is a great matchup for Martinelli’s speed and work rate, but in place for who? Pepe had begun to find a grove in the Premier League and is the team’s 3rd highest scorer (behind Auba and Laca). Could he draw yellow cards and free kicks putting pressure on City’s defense, helping ease the expected pressure on the Gunners’ backline?
- But it’s important to take a step back and realize where the club is right now and how things looked a few months ago. Arsenal has improved, despite room still to climb from 10th. They are just six points off Liverpool. The attack continues to build momentum and develop the needed surplus of options - Saka continues to grow into one of the league’s best, Smith Rowe’s breakout season, the seemingly smart addition of Odegaard, Aubameyang back in form with his hat-trick, Lacazette pulling in goals when Arsenal needed a lift the most, Pepe nearly surpassing last year’s goal tally all around, and the talent of Martinelli still waiting to hit a long run of form. That speaks nothing to Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney, Bernd Leno, Hector Bellerin, and a great trio of CBs heading into next season - Mari, Holding, & Gabriel. Sunday might be a tough match-up, but things appear to be heading in the right direction until Mikel Arteta and Edu.
How to watch
Sunday (2/21) at 11:30 am ET / 8:30 am PT on Peacock Premium.
Manchester City - 2
Arsenal - 1