Saturday, October 7, 2023

Mikel Arteta has Arsenal trump card selection to consider amid Kai Havertz dilemma vs Man City

At the weekend, Arsenal have the chance to end an eight-year hoodoo. Whilst the Gunners have enjoyed success over Manchester City of late, those victories have come in cup competitions and most recently in the Community Shield at the beginning of August.

But not since December 2015 – when Mikel Arteta was still an active player – have the north London outfit beaten City in the Premier League. In fact, you have to go back to April 2017 for the last time Pep Guardiola’s side did not win this fixture whether it be at the Emirates Stadium or the Etihad Stadium.


So as one Spanish tactician sets out to get the better of the other, the Arsenal manager goes into the game with the knowledge that Jurrien Timber (ACL) is definitely unavailable for selection. Whether that number increases remains to be seen with Bukayo Saka in contention and Gabriel Martinelli still a doubt.


Ideally, Arteta will have a near full-strength squad to select from against a City side who have lost two of their last three games in all competitions. Whatever the scenario is, there are plenty of discussion points surrounding Arsenal ahead of the heavyweight clash and has gone through them below.

Saka decision

As expected, the status of Saka was the focus of Arteta’s pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon. The winger picked up a knock which resulted in him being substituted against RC Lens in midweek, thus raising doubts over his involvement for the visit of Man City.


Usually, the Arsenal manager is rather coy when discussing the fitness of his players but he opted to change his tune on this occasion. Without ruling the England international out – nor did he confirm the 22-year-old’s availability – Arteta simply revealed his star man is in contention.


“Well, he is in contention. Let’s see how he progresses from here to Sunday,” the Spaniard told reporters. “He had to leave the pitch [against RC Lens] that’s never good news but let’s see how he recovers. In contention. That’s it. I’m not a doctor. That’s what they told me.”


A positive update, yes, but considering this was the third game in a row where Saka had to limp off, it’s quite clear that he needs a rest. Of course, this is Arsenal’s biggest fixture of the season so far and they’ll need their best players to topple Man City, but having the winger fit in the long-term surely takes precedence.

Trump card selection

Aside from Timber and possibly Saka as well as Martinelli, the Gunners are in good shape with regard to injuries and fitness at the moment. In fact, with Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey returning in recent weeks, midfield is certainly an area of strength and it could be where Sunday’s game is decided.



In the latter’s case, Arteta has his big game trump card back. If the Community Shield clash was an indication of how Arsenal will set up in midfield against a fellow title rival or away from home against a ‘big six’ side then it’s Partey at the base with Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice just ahead.


Handing a start to the Ghana international is a risk as he’s not played since August, but he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery, and with City not able to call upon Rodri or Kevin De Bruyne, taking full advantage of a perhaps weakened City midfield is worth taking into consideration.


“He is ahead of schedule, that’s for sure. We wanted to have him in the squad [vs RC Lens in midweek] if we needed to, the way the game panned out we had other necessities and didn’t use him,” Arteta said of Partey. “He will be in the squad.”


3 options, one position

In the corresponding fixture last season, Eddie Nketiah led the line in the absence of Gabriel Jesus and missed a big chance that could have changed the result and course of the title race. Fast forward a few months and the Brazilian is available for selection thus presenting Arteta with a dilemma.


Then when you add Kai Havertz to the mix – especially after his decent performance in the Community Shield as the centre-forward – all of a sudden the Gunners manager is spoilt for choice. With City’s defenders physically dominant, it could be worth opting for the German again as Jesus could be needed out wide.


Home struggles

It sounds strange to say Arsenal have struggled at home this season. After all, they are unbeaten at the Emirates Stadium and have scored at least two goals in every single game. The issue is a lack of clean sheets as they’ve kept just one and that was against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League.

Particularly when looking at some of the self-inflicted goals the Gunners have conceded such as the opener against Fulham and Son Heung-Min’s second in the North London Derby, there is cause for concern. However, Arteta has rejected suggestions that his side are being affected by the Emirates Stadium faithful.


“First of all I think that we have the best atmosphere ever at the Emirates,” he said. “If we can create that, it’s going to be so helpful for the team. It’s how we manage that. We have moments where we’ve managed it exceptionally well. Against PSV was a really good example, and some parts against Spurs. That’s down to us. Hopefully the crowd can produce that because that will be a big plus for us.”



Safe to say no matter the noise inside the Emirates, the Gunners can’t afford to gift Man City any big chances on Sunday as it could be the game where Julian Alvarez punishes them and a misfiring Erling Haaland regains his composure in front of goal.

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