Mikel Arteta must choose between sticking and twisting now. In the Premier League title match on Wednesday, Arsenal will meet Manchester City, and the Gunners’ manager will have to decide whether to stick with the same lineup that has propelled them to the top of the standings or make changes to a team that has begun to perform below par. For the best sports betting casinos of February 2023, hit up our CasinoDaddy pages!
For the sixth straight Premier League game, Arsenal used the same starting eleven in their 1-1 draw with Brentford last weekend. This is the first time in eight years that they have done so, and it is a clear sign of the calmness in their selection process, which has allowed the Gunners to enter this midweek game versus City three points ahead of the competition.
Opta statistics reveal that Arsenal has changed their starting lineup just 14 times this season, which is nine fewer than any other Premier League team. In comparison, only Chelsea, Southampton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Nottingham Forest have made more substitutions than City, who have made 49.
A closer examination of the figures reveals that Arsenal employed 25 players overall, including 17 different starts, as opposed to City’s deployment of 21 players and 18 starters.
The World Cup winner Julian Alvarez was prepared to step in for Erling Haaland if necessary, and Phil Foden has recovered from illness to compete with Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, and possibly Bernardo Silva in a wide attacking position, two positions where Pep Guardiola has long preferred to use a slightly smaller group but extremely high-quality players. These actions are perhaps best illustrated by these examples.
This season, Arsenal’s dependable starters have outperformed all expectations. Their depth players will probably need to follow suit if they want to continue on and win the championship.
The Gunners aren’t exactly giving up. After all, they lost to Brentford due to a goal that should have been disallowed by VAR, a mistake for which the organization that regulates referees, Professional Game Match Officials Limited, has now issued an apology.
However, after losing to Everton a week earlier, Arsenal was not at their best this time around, and Gabriel Martinelli was one of those who had let standards fall a little. The 21-year-old is not performing poorly, but there has been a decline, especially since signing his new contract at the beginning of the month. His position may now appear a little more precarious after Leandro Trossard scored his first goal for Arsenal after coming off the bench against Brentford following his £27 million transfer from Brighton & Hove Albion last month.
The club’s January transactions will be more closely examined in the coming weeks. Trossard and Jorginho, a £12 million addition from Chelsea, were savvy moves that required minimal adaptation, but it’s no secret that the club was chasing larger names.
They failed in their attempt to sign Mykhailo Mudryk and settled for Trossard. They attempted to sign Moises Caicedo but ultimately settled for Jorginho.
Both options had justifications, but in the end, they decided that because they had already made large offers to their top targets, pushing themselves any further would be risky. The logic of those decisions will be put to the test, and Arteta might not have wanted it to happen so soon considering that his squad has already lost three straight games, including their FA Cup third-round loss against City on January 27.
It would make some sense to replace Martinelli with Trossard, as well as maybe to start Takehiro Tomiyasu at right back in lieu of Ben White, who has recently struggled to match his excellent early-season form. But if Arteta wants to compete against City, he will be careful not to give the players who started this surprising championship race a chance to exploit that advantage against their closest rivals.
Although there was little competition in that area last season, Arsenal and City are similar in that both clubs seek to control the ball.
Under Arteta, the Gunners have competed in 118 Premier League games. Their two games versus City during 2021–2022 had their two lowest possession percentages: 20.1% in a 5-0 loss at Etihad Stadium in August 2021 and 29.1% in a 2-1 loss at home on New Year’s Day 2022.
Granit Xhaka was dismissed after 35 minutes in the 5-0 defeat, while Gabriel Magalhaes was sent after 59 minutes in the opposite match, in which Arteta was absent due to COVID-19 and his team only lost to a Rodri header in stoppage time. City command terms against practically every club they meet. Despite losing their previous 10 league games to City, those two performances show how impressively Arsenal has closed the gap on them. However, Arteta must decide whether or not to continue with the front-foot, attack-minded strategy that has served them so well all season against a team that has mastered that technique in domestic football over the past five years.
This season, the rotation has not come readily to him, but it is still dangerous to speculate on Guardiola’s starting lineups. Unpredictability in the selection, such as unexpectedly sitting Kevin De Bruyne at Tottenham, is crucial to keeping a team’s desire to win the league title intact. Given that neither manager divulged much information while discussing team news on Tuesday, it is still unclear whether the injury speculation surrounding Haaland is more a matter of obfuscation than actual worry.
Guardiola has also managed to keep his team on task by demonstrating a willingness to get rid of players who are no longer contributing. While Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko were moved to Arsenal last summer, Raheem Sterling went to Chelsea. These two players significantly improved the Gunners’ team.
Joao Cancelo’s abrupt departure from Bayern Munich last month, reportedly the result of a spat with Guardiola over what the City manager saw as a lack of effort in training, served as a reminder to his team about complacency but also made the choice to let Zinchenko go that much more difficult. The ability of the Ukraine international to intelligently drift into midfield when Arsenal has the ball, as Cancelo frequently did for City, has been a key tactic in Arsenal’s ability to control matches, and it is likely that this will be yet another intriguing facet of what should be an exciting contest.
The outcome of the title will not be decided on Wednesday, but a victory for Arsenal would give Arteta and his team confidence that they may still have the team to rival City stride for stride in the coming months.