Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Willian impressed as Arsenal’s front three in their opening game of the season, with Aubameyang and Lacazette both scoring and Willian notching two assists. They were undoubtedly Mikel Arteta’s Plan A, starting the first three games together and five of the first seven in which they were all available. At that stage, Champions League football was the target.
Now, eight points off the top four and with five teams between them and Chelsea, that aim has been all-but dismissed. And everyone seems absolutely – and understandably – fine with that.
If you had been told after that opening-day win over Fulham that after 24 games Arsenal would have lost as many as they had won and would be sitting in mid-table, most would suspect Arteta would be clinging to his job if he hadn’t lost it already. But there’s barely a hint of pressure on Arteta or his team right now. Individual mistakes are brushed off rather than lingered upon, tactical missteps are excused by inexperience and defeats are part of the learning curve, not examples of players not caring or a further reminder of how far they’ve fallen since 2003.
There’s finally an acceptance with Arsenal – at the club, among the fans, even in the media – that their current inconsistency is “part of the process”, as Arteta said back in November.
It’s all well and good a manager saying that when they take over at a club – as they invariably do – but the difference between it being said and being trusted has been the cost of too many managerial jobs to count. And actually, when Arteta made those comments before Christmas – in the middle of a streak of one win and seven defeats in ten – there was very little clarity to the so-called process and worrying signs of a continuing lack of progression.
Saka & Auba out as Arteta makes 5 changes | Expected Arsenal line-up vs Man City
Arsenal take on Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Here is the team Gooner Mac expects Mikel Arteta to select:
Goalkeeper: Bernd Leno will once again start between the sticks for Arsenal this weekend with Mat Ryan expected to be his back-up from the bench.
Defence: Kieran Tierney made his return from a knee injury with a second half appearance during Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Benfica on Thursday night. The Scottish international is likely to be handed a start against City to build up his fitness. Cedric Soares will be the man to make way as Hector Bellerin should retain his place at right-back.
Arteta might freshen things up in the middle of defence with Rob Holding pushing for a recall. David Luiz could keep his place with Gabriel dropping to the bench alongside Pablo Mari.
Midfield: Arsenal will continue to be without Thomas Partey as he’s still nursing a thigh injury that’s kept him out of recent games. Dani Ceballos has impressed in Partey’s absence so he should keep his place alongside Granit Xhaka in the middle of the park.
Martin Odegaard has also impressed in his two full starts for Arsenal so the Norwegian international may retain his place in the number 10 position against Manchester City this weekend.
Attack: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was out of sorts on Thursday night and with Arteta expected to rest a few players ahead of the vital return leg against Benfica, the Gabon hitman might be given a breather. Alexandre Lacazette would therefore be recalled up front.
The Gunners boss has spoken about ‘protecting’ Bukayo Saka and the youngster has been virtually ever-present for Arsenal recently so he might be given a rest ahead of the Benfica game – which has to be the priority given our struggles in the Premier League.
Willian is an option to come in but he’s been a huge disappointment since joining Arsenal last summer so Gabriel Martinelli could get a chance to impress this weekend. Emile Smith Rowe has played a lot of football lately so Arteta might give him a breather with Nicolas Pepe pushing for a recall in attack.
Here is how I think we’ll see Arsenal line-up: