Finally, the wait is almost over. What has become the most hotly-anticipated fixture of the season so far finally arrives on Wednesday night.
Arsenal vs Manchester City – a game that could go a long way to deciding the Premier League title race.
An Arsenal win will take them six points clear with a game in hand, but a City win will see them knock Mikel Arteta’s league leaders off top spot for the first time since back in August.
That’s what’s at stake, and Arsenal is coming into the game after going three games without a win in all competitions, including an FA Cup loss at City by a score of 1-0.
They also have a terrible record against the champions. In their last 10 league games against City, they have lost, scoring only three goals and giving up 26.
So, what can Arsenal do on Wednesday night to stop this losing streak and take a big step toward the title? Below, GOAL, takes a look…
The fight between Saliba and Haaland
This season, William Saliba’s effect on English football was felt right away. After spending last season on loan with Marseille, the central defender joined the team in the summer and fit right in.
Saliba looked like he had been playing in England for years, and he had no trouble dealing with some of the best attackers the Premier League had to offer.
But the 21-year-play old’s has been worse as of late, and many people say it’s because he was away with France at the World Cup.
Saliba only played for 27 minutes in Qatar, and since then, his game has had a rusty feel that we hadn’t seen much of before the tournament.
Saturday, during the 1-1 draw with Brentford, Ivan Toney gave him a hard time. Toney looked too strong for Saliba every time the ball was played to him, whether it was on the ground or in the air.
And on Wednesday night, if Manchester City forward Erling Haaland is cleared to play after his injury scare, the young center back for Arsenal will face a similar physical battle with Haaland.
It remains to be seen if Toney’s behavior toward Saliba over the weekend hurt his confidence, but Arteta will definitely be hoping that is not the case.
Saliba did play Haaland in the second half of their recent FA Cup match. He did very well against the prolific Norway international, who looked frustrated by the end of the game.
If Saliba can play as well at the Emirates as he did at the Etihad, it will do a lot to stop the most dangerous part of City’s attack.
Include Saka in the game.
Even when most people try to keep Bukayo Saka quiet, he can still make something happen out of nothing.
This was never more clear than on Saturday, when a strong Brentford defense made it hard for Arsenal to get anything going.
The other team did a great job of keeping Saka away from the ball until, in the blink of an eye, he used his strength to push Mathias Jensen aside and send a wicked cross that Leandro Trossard scored on.
It was a goal out of nowhere and a great example of how Saka can hurt you even when he’s not at his best.
It’s hard to say for sure who Arsenal’s right winger will face on Wednesday night, but Nathan Ake seems like the most likely opponent.
In the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Dutch international had a great game against Arsenal. He mostly kept Saka quiet and even scored an unlikely game-winner.
Arsenal needs to do everything they can to get Saka into the game and, more importantly, get the ball to him when he has space.
Against Brentford, everything was a bit too slow, and whenever Saka or Gabriel Martinelli got the ball out wide, they were often up against two or three defenders.
Saka was rarely able to get away from his fullback, but if he can do it often against Ake or whoever Guardiola chooses to play at left back, Arsenal could have a good night.
Block the space down the flanks
Manchester City are very similar to Arsenal in many ways.
And just as Mikel Arteta’s side like to exploit the space down the flanks when they attack, City like to do exactly the same.
It seems like Guardiola will go for Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez on Wednesday night and stopping the service to them will be key to Arsenal’s success.
Mahrez has been in fine form this season and Grealish is becoming a growing influence in the City attack, with some excellent recent performances.
If Arsenal can stop them in their tracks and funnel the visitors into central areas, they will back themselves to come out on top in that battle, as they have done many times this season in big games.
Use De Bruyne twice as much
This season, a lot of Arsenal’s success has been built on the solid foundation of Thomas Partey.
If Partey does well in a game, Arsenal does well. It’s really that easy.
And Arteta will know that Ghana’s Kevin De Bruyne will have to be at his best on Wednesday night when he plays against him.
De Bruyne is still the key to how Manchester City plays, and Partey will be in charge of making sure the Belgian playmaker doesn’t have the space he needs to shine, especially when he drifts into the middle of the field, where he can be a threat.
But Oleksandr Zinchenko and Granit Xhaka will also be very important in keeping De Bruyne quiet.
This is hard to do because of how good De Bruyne is, but Arsenal will have a much better chance of winning if they can stop Haaland from getting much help from De Bruyne.
Arteta vs Guardiola
Mikel Arteta is yet to beat Pep Guardiola in the Premier League since he opted to swap the Etihad for the Emirates in 2019.
So far Arteta’s one success over his mentor came in the 2020 FA Cup semi-final. Aside from that he’s had five attempts in the league and lost every single one.
Arsenal’s manager needs to find a way of ending that barren run on Wednesday night. If he can, then he will go a long way to helping the Gunners end their 19-year wait for the title.
Both know each other so well so there could be plenty of mind games before kick-off, with both trying to second guess what the other might do.
That’s never an easy job when it comes to Guardiola, such is his tendency to try something a bit different in the big games.
Arteta is likely to stay true to what he knows when it comes to his team selection and trust the players that have got him into this position in the first place.
But if he can get the odd tactical tweak right and Arsenal get on top because of that, then the Spaniard could be the man to make the difference in a game of such fine margins.
This season, Arsenal’s ability to start games quickly has been a big part of why they’ve done so well.
They’ve sometimes gotten off to a great start and taken control of a game before the other team had a chance to get comfortable.
Recently, Arteta’s team has had trouble doing this. In three of their last five Premier League games, they didn’t score in the first half.
The energy and intensity that have been the hallmarks of their season have gone down a bit, and they need to get it back on Wednesday night.
Last season, Arsenal’s best 45 minutes came on New Year’s Day when they played City at home at the Emirates.
During the first half, they dominated Guardiola’s team and kept them in and around their own penalty area.
Arsenal had every right to be ahead at halftime, and the only reason City won the second half was because of a controversial penalty call and Gabriel Magalhaes’s red card.
This time, they need to play just as well as they did in the first half. They need to get going quickly and not let City get comfortable.
Thrive on the environment
There is a strong case to be made that this is the biggest game ever played at the Emirates Stadium.
The crowd will be full of energy, and Arsenal must feed off of that.
The relationship between Arteta’s team and the fans has been a big part of Arsenal’s success this season, especially at home, where they haven’t lost a league game yet.
Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester United have all lost in games where the atmosphere was like a boiling pot. If City can join that list, Arsenal will be in the driver’s seat for the title.
But they must remember to keep their heads.
Last season, Arsenal was winning at home against City until they gave up a penalty and had a player sent off in less than two minutes. All of a sudden, a lead of 1-0 turned into a loss of 2-1. On Wednesday night, they can’t let that happen.