I am fairly confident we will pick up a red card during tomorrow’s game against in-form Manchester City.
It could be a spectacular straight red as David Luiz performs a scissors kick around Gundogan’s neck in the six yard box, or a low-key second yellow for Granit Xhaka, twice caught out in midfield and deliberately pulling back his opponent to make up for his lack of speed. Or some other catastrophic blunder.
Sorry to start with such a negative prediction, but ironically I reached it by considering our chances against the champions-to-be and surprising myself be not feeling completely daunted.
Yes, they’re unbeaten since November 19th and, yes, they have won 14 of their last 16 in the league (the other two were draws) and, yes, their goal difference is a full 15 – FIFTEEN! – ahead of the second placed team and, yes, they’re playing beautiful football but… we have Kieran Tierney!
Seriously though, I started to think through the sort of attacking players we can now put out – the likes of Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang, Martinelli, Pepe and I realised that tomorrow’s game is not automatically a write-off, even though most supporters seem to think so.
We can cause them problems. We have players who can make pretty patterns and create openings and I fully expect us to score.
But then I pondered the problems they will pose us. Apart from the general high level of quality and technical ability in their squad, it’s the speed and skill of their attacking line-up that has proved so deadly.
And that lethal strike force will probably be up against the following back line: Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney. Obviously three of those were starters on Thursday night and Tierney got about half an hour as a sub, but I suspect that Mikel Arteta will send them out again against the pale blue Mancs.
It’s not a great leap from thinking “Man City’s attackers play a lightning fast, one-touch, pass-and-move game” to thinking “David Luiz… Granit Xhaka… oh dear.”
If Holding starts instead of Luiz, the problem remains the same. As the City players try to weave round us into the box it will be all too easy for Luiz, or Holding, or a back-tracking Xhaka to stick out a boot and bring them down. With VAR there’s no escape, particularly as the system seems to have it in for Arsenal.
Gabriel is a much faster defender but he, too, has shown the capacity for a sudden misjudgement leading to expulsion. And Hector Bellerin has a habit of getting caught out of position and having to chase back to make amends, sometimes feeling forced to commit a foul.
Playing City with 11 men will be hard enough. With 10 men it will be almost impossible.
Am I too pessimistic? Or have I identified a fundamental weakness in our squad – something I have previously referred to as a “self destructiveness gene” in our DNA? Nine red cards so far under El Patron and counting. Will it be 10 by tomorrow evening?