From frustrating Haaland to feeding Saka: The seven things Arsenal must do to finally beat Man City
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 go into the game on the back of three games without a win in all competitions, one of which was a 1-0 defeat at City in the FA Cup.
They also have a dreadful record against the champions to contend with, having lost their last 10 league games against City, scoring just three goals and conceding 26 in the process.
So what can Arsenal do to end that run and take a major step towards the title on Wednesday night? Below, GOAL, takes a look...
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The Saliba vs Haaland battle
William Saliba’s impact on English football this season was immediate. The central defender slotted in seamlessly following his arrival in the summer after last season’s loan spell with Marseille.
Saliba looked like he’d been playing in England for years and had little trouble dealing with some of the best attackers the Premier League had to offer.
But the 21-year-old’s performances have dipped of late, with many pointing to his time away with France at the World Cup as a reason why.
Saliba featured for just 27 minutes in Qatar and there has certainly been an air of rustiness to his game since his return that we hadn’t really seen prior to the tournament.
Ivan Toney gave him a torrid time on Saturday during the 1-1 draw with Brentford. Toney just looked too strong for Saliba whenever the ball was played up to him, both on the floor and in the air.
And Arsenal's young centre-back will come up against a similar sort of physical battle on Wednesday night when he goes head to head with Erling Haaland, should the Manchester City frontman be passed fit following his injury scare.
Whether Saliba’s confidence will have been hit by the treatment he was served up by Toney at the weekend remains to be seen, but Arteta will certainly be hoping that will not be the case.
Saliba did actually go up against Haaland in the second half of the recent FA Cup tie between the sides and performed very well against the prolific Norway international, who ended the game a frustrated figure.
If Saliba can replicate that type of showing at the Emirates, then it will go a long way to nullifying the most potent part of City’s attack.
Get Saka into the game
Even when Bukayo Saka is kept largely quiet, he still has the ability to make something happen out of nothing.
Never was that more evident than on Saturday when Arsenal struggled for large periods to get any joy out of a resolute Brentford defence.
The visitors had done superbly well to keep Saka under wraps until, in the blink of an eye, he showed superb strength to outmuscle Mathias Jensen and send in a wicked cross for Leandro Trossard to convert.
It was a goal out of nothing and a perfect example of how Saka can hurt you, even when he is not at his best.
It’s difficult to say for certain who Arsenal’s right winger will be up against on Wednesday night, but the most likely guess is that it will be Nathan Ake.
The Dutch international had a fine game against Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round, keeping Saka largely quiet and even scoring an unlikely winner at the other end.
Arsenal need to do all they can to get Saka into the game and, more importantly, get the ball to him when he has space.
It was all a bit too slow against Brentford and whenever the ball was worked out wide, either to Saka or Gabriel Martinelli, they were more than often up against two or three defenders.
It was very rare to see Saka able to isolate his full-back, but if he can get into that situation regularly against Ake, or whoever Guardiola opts for at left-back, Arsenal could be in for a good night.
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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.
Double up on De Bruyne
Thomas Partey has been the rock that a large amount of Arsenal’s success has been built upon this season.
If Partey plays well, Arsenal play well. It’s that simple.
And Arteta will know that the Ghana international will have to be at his very best while up against Kevin De Bruyne on Wednesday night.
De Bruyne is still the man that makes Manchester City tick and Partey will be tasked in shutting down the space that the Belgian playmaker can excel in, especially when he drifts into the central areas where he can be such a threat.
But it’s not just going to be up to Partey to keep De Bruyne quiet; players like Oleksandr Zinchenko and Granit Xhaka will also be so key in that regard.
It’s a difficult job, such is De Bruyne’s quality, but if Arsenal can do it and starve much of the service to Haaland, then their chances of coming out on top will be greatly increased.
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.
A big part of Arsenal’s success this season has been their ability to start games quickly.
They’ve flown out of the blocks at times and taken control of a game before the opposition has been able to settle.
That’s something they’ve struggled to do of late, however, with Arteta’s side failing to score in the first half of three of their last five Premier League games.
The energy and intensity that has been the hallmark of their season has dipped slightly and they need to get that back on Wednesday night.
Arsenal’s best 45-minute performance of last season came in the home game against City at the Emirates on New Year’s Day.
They dominated Guardiola’s side throughout the first half, constantly pinning them in and around their own penalty area.
Arsenal deservedly led at the break and the game only swung City’s way in the second half after a controversial penalty decision and a red card to Gabriel Magalhaes.
A repeat of that first-half performance is exactly what they need this time around. They have to start fast and not allow City to settle.
Thrive on the atmosphere
There is a very strong argument to suggest that this is the biggest game the Emirates Stadium has ever seen.
The atmosphere is going to be electric and Arsenal must thrive on that.
The connection between Arteta’s side and the fans has been a key ingredient of the success Arsenal have enjoyed this season, especially at home where they are yet to taste defeat in the league.
Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United have all been seen off amid cauldron-like atmospheres and if City can be added to that list, then Arsenal will be firmly in the driving seat for the title.
But one thing they must do is keep their heads.
Arsenal were on top against City at home last season and then conceded a penalty and had a man sent off within the space of two minutes. Suddenly a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 defeat. They can’t let that happen on Wednesday night.