The pursuit of a record 15th FA Cup will have a tall hurdle as the Gunners travel to the Etihad stadium for the 4th round of the competition. Arsenal beat Oxford United 3-0 in the previous round, thanks to a brace from the club’s top goal scorer this season - Eddie Nketiah. While the bigger clashes in the league don’t commence until next month, both managers will see this as a chance to measure their squad's ability to take on the best.
Manchester City opened their FA Cup campaign this year with a 4-0 win over Chelsea. It was in Manchester and Pep Guardiola fielded a mixed squad of backups and regular players. However, coming up against Arsenal, he likely plays as many of his first-choice players at home on Friday. City enters the match having won their last two games after suffering rare back-to-back defeats before that to Manchester United and Southampton (League Cup).
For this FA Cup tie, we chatted with Saul Garcia from SB Nation’s Bitter & Blue, a Manchester City site.
TSF: Erling Haaland easily leads the Premier League’s Golden Boot race, but at the same, time Manchester City is conceding more goals this year than in previous. What are your thoughts on these two aspects of City’s season so far?
B&B: It has been a bit of a shock. The defense is much shakier and weaker than in previous seasons but the team has been a much better attack. It’s a juxtaposition that has made for a fun and stressful season. Injuries have played a part and with a lot of the defense at the World Cup, it made for a double transition/off-season period for the team. It could be why Haaland has been on such a tear since he had an essential month off and it has done wonders.
TSF: Has his addition, while prolific, been a trade-off Pep has been willing to accept in the pursuit of the Champions League trophy?
B&B: It has been, but it will be a worthwhile one. Pep has tried motivating the team with scare tactics recently and part of that has been a lack of desire from mainstays and heart from all the new players who have not had near the success the current ones have had. With that, Haaland is and will be the difference maker who in those close moments of a UCL semi-final can make a difference. That is the key in knock-out tournaments, true killers that can win you a match in minutes.
TSF: Since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008, City has made just three FA Cup finals, winning twice. Compare that to six Premier League titles and four seasons coming in second during that same time period. Is it a case of not worrying about the Cup or just a series of isolated losses?
B&B: Isolated losses. All cup competitions are a mix of luck and talent, especially in one-off scenarios as many are. It’s why Guardiola and many managers believe league titles are the real way to measure a team's success, not a KO tournament where luck can and often is involved. Pep is due some luck and with a player like Haaland, I like the team's chances to make it far in UCL and the FA Cup. Even if one is more of a priority.
TSF: City recently signed Máximo Perrone. What do you expect him to add to the squad and where else might City invest during this window?
B&B: He is a true 6, though he can and will compete with Rodrigo and Phillips. He would be the clear third there, but he has the talent like Julian Alvarez did to play himself into much more than that. Elsewhere, I’d be shocked if they make another move in this window. All indications show they will wait until the summer and go hard after Jude Bellingham and a true left-back.
TSF: Give us your predicted starting XI for the Cup tie and a final scoreline.
B&B: I expect a near full-strength lineup so Ederson in goal, Cancelo, Stones, Laporte, and Walker. Gundogan, Rodrigo, Bernardo. Three up top, Grealish, Haaland, and Mahrez. It’s going to be a tricky match as both will want to win.
Final Scoreline: City 3-2 Arsenal.
Thanks to Saul Garcia and Bitter and Blue for taking the time to talk with us.