What I most love about match days is that I always wake up with an advanced case of “football fan over-optimism syndrome.”
So even today, as we prepare to welcome the supremely in-form champions-to-be Manchester City, I kind of fancy our chances.
On paper there’s no point in us even turning up, but luckily we play on grass and, football being football, anything is possible.
The tender small shoots of my optimism are not built solely on delusion and hope (those two travelling companions of every supporter’s psyche). I have a few scraps of evidence to support my position:
- For some reason we tend to play quite well against the better teams. Not always, but sometimes. Our abysmal run of form earlier in the season was ended when we thrashed Chelsea, who at the time were flying. Last season we beat Manchester City and Chelsea on our way to lifting the FA Cup. We’ve taken four points from two games against Manchester United in the league.
- We have been playing some really nice football in recent games. The first half against Leeds; a fair bit of the Benfica match where we were let down by our finishing; the Southampton win. Even the games we’ve lost (Wolves and Villa) were characterised by us playing well but shooting ourselves in the foot.
- We now have some truly creative players capable of hurting any opposition. Saka first and foremost, but also Smith Rowe and Odegaard.
- Kieran Tierney is back and, let’s face it, he’d be happy to take on City all on his own.
If I was to do a similar list of reasons why the light blue Mancs will probably win today it would, of course, be much longer and would include things like “David Luiz’s tendency to give away penalties” and “our ability to conjure a clown-show moment from the most promising of situations.”
Yesterday I wrote about my fear that we would probably pick up yet another red card at some point in this game (because of the speed of City’s movement and the habit some of our players have of bringing down players who get past them). But after a good night’s sleep I am, as previously stated, feeling more positive so I shall banish such negative thoughts.
Predicting the starting line-up feels both easy and hard. Easy because, in one sense, Arteta seems to have found something close to a first eleven. Hard because most of those players competed for 90 minutes on Thursday night with international travel thrown in, so you’d think there would be rotation today.
But do you really want to rotate your most reliable players against the best team in the country? I’m probably wrong, but I’m going to go with the idea that El Patron will send out a mostly unchanged side for the third game running and hope to rest some before the end when we’re a few goals ahead (haha).
Injury wise, Thomas Partey is said to be ‘progressing well’ from a thigh problem and was being assessed before today’s game. His presence would be a huge boost but I think it’s unlikely he’ll be ready and we will not want to take risks with him.
Here’s my guess at the line-up:
Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney
Xhaka – Elneny
Saka – Odegaard – Smith Rowe
I have Elneny in instead of Ceballos, which would be a bit unlucky for Dani, but Mo gives us more athleticism and is more defensively minded.
I would not be at all surprised to see Lacazette start, with Auba on the left and Smith Rowe on the bench, but if you read this blog regularly you will by now know my feelings about ESR and I will be disappointed if the Croydon De Bruyne doesn’t start.
Keep our concentration, work our socks off, create some chances and who knows what could happen. The one good thing about teams that are on a seemingly irresistible run (like City) is that they always end up meeting resistance in unexpected places. Let the Emirates today be that place.
Come On You Gunners.