Arsenal travel to Manchester City on Wednesday, as Premier League football prepares to return in its new format behind-closed-doors.
I already wrote this article once, back in March, when we were still blissfully unaware of the full impact coronavirus would have on football. But a lot changed over the last three months, and my predictions for the game are a bit different now.
There’s no form or momentum and the injury situation is drastically different. We don’t really have any reference points for a predicted lineup, bar the recent friendlies. So take the below with a pinch of salt.
Bernd Leno looks sharp in the friendly footage, and he kept a clean sheet in both matches for as long as he was on the pitch. Given he was one of Arsenal’s best players before the break, there’s no reason he shouldn’t start here.
Kieran Tierney is back, starting both friendlies, and he should replace Bukayo Saka in the starting lineup. Hector Bellerin will certainly start on the other side, given Cedric Soares’ recent black eye temporarily incapacitating him.
The centre-back pairing is a bit of a mystery. We could probably see any combination of David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Shkodran Mustafi. Although I’d say it’s unlikely Rob Holding or Sokratis Pastathopoulos start, that’s not impossible either.
My gut feeling is that Arteta will opt for Luiz and Mustafi. The first time around, I thought Mari would partner Luiz, but it’s worth noting Arsenal didn’t use that pairing in either of the recent friendly matches.
If Arteta wanted to start the two together against City, wouldn’t it make sense to give them at least some time on the pitch as a pair when he had the chance?
I’m expecting another change here, with Arsenal utilising a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-2-3-1. That’s how the team set up against Brentford, and it allows Arteta to get Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock and Dani Ceballos into the midfield.
Willock is in good form going into the game, and his energy and pressing could be important against City. The same goes for Ceballos, whilst Xhaka will sit at the base of the midfield dropping back into defence as he did before Mari’s arrival.
Lucas Torreira is out, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matteo Guendouzi still have a bit of a point to prove, and for this game, it feels like Mesut Özil is the most likely to drop out. Particularly after what happened in the home game against City.
There are a lot of options here. Will it be Alexandre Lacazette or Eddie Nketiah up front? Or maybe Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with Bukayo Saka or Gabriel Martinelli on the left? And is it Nicolas Pepe or Reiss Nelson on the right?
Though we have no official confirmation, Nelson coming off 25 minutes after coming on in the last friendly suggests he has an injury problem. So that leaves Pepe as the most likely option on the right.
After that, it’s just down to gut feelings again. Personally, I think he’ll opt for the experience of Lacazette and Aubameyang. Martinelli would add more in terms of pressing, but he doesn’t seem like a starter under Arteta so far.