It’s been quite a week in the title race. Just when you thought Liverpool were about to capitalise on a catastrophic Manchester City defeat in the North East, a Harry Maguire masterclass was enough to keep the blues in a title race that is certain to bring yet more twists and turns. There really is no margin for error from now till the end of the season for all those involved in the race for top spot, and with an action-packed February looming, Manchester City will have to be at their very best.
There’s no time to dwell on Tuesday night’s disaster however, with Unai Emery’s Arsenal being the next to visit the Etihad Stadium. The Gunners had a relatively indifferent start to 2019 with a defeat to West Ham and an FA Cup exit at home to Manchester United hitting them hard. Injury problems have started to mount for Arsenal, giving Manchester City a slight edge ahead of Sunday’s clash.
Before this one, I took time out to speak to one of the more familiar names of the Arsenal community on social media to get his thoughts ahead of this one. Here’s @PatrickTimmons1 views going into the clash between 2nd and 4th:
It’s a pleasure to have you featuring in this edition of ‘Ask the Opposition’ Patrick. The 2018/2019 campaign marked the start of a huge change at Arsenal Football Club with Unai Emery’s arrival signalling the start of a new era. How have you felt the season has gone up until this point?
In many ways, we are roughly where people would have expected us to be after 24 gameweeks. The fixture list wasn’t initially kind to us, given the circumstances at the start of the season. Manchester City at home and Chelsea away is a daunting opening two fixtures for any side, let alone one with a change as drastic as you mentioned. However, after those two games, we enjoyed a great run of 22 games unbeaten. Since then, we’ve significantly dropped in form. Injuries have certainly played their part, but overall there have been a few factors that may have contributed to this dip. Nonetheless, I think that this recent run of results may have altered the perception that people may have had regarding our season to date. Many are suggesting we are having a simply awful season and haven’t remotely improved, but if you had offered us top four at the beginning of the season, I think the majority would have taken it with open arms. Obviously there are still 14 games to play in the league and we do also have the Europa League to consider, so a lot can still change. There are undeniably areas in which we need to improve (primarily in defence) but I think that there are some very positive signs in the long run.
January was a relatively indifferent month for Arsenal – wins against Chelsea, Fulham and Cardiff combined with defeat to West Ham and an FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United. How would you assess this start to the new year?
Obviously the Manchester United defeat was disappointing, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. The cup would have been a nice bonus for Unai Emery in his first season but I believe that our main priority has to be securing Champions League football for the next campaign, both in terms of attracting players and from a financial standpoint. Subsequently, the defeat to West Ham was a bigger blow, as we simply cannot afford to drop points to the so-called lesser teams in a season that is so competitive. The performances against Cardiff and Fulham weren’t exactly vintage but the three points was all that counted. The Chelsea result was a very mature display and gave us reason to be optimistic about the future. Similarly to the season as a whole, there were ups and downs in January, but I’m hoping that we can kick on now and have a strong finish to the season.
The title race may be out of reach for Unai Emery, however the race for fourth is well and truly on with just two points separating yourselves and Manchester United, whilst also being level on points with Chelsea. Is the race for fourth where you wanted to be at this stage of the season?
It probably wouldn’t be accurate to say that a top four battle is what we wanted, as every fan wants to see their club challenge for the title. However, at the beginning of the season, I personally said that Champions League qualification for the 2019/20 season would represent a decent year, be that through the top four or a Europa League triumph. Although we still had the likes of Özil, Aubameyang, Lacazette, etc. it’s important to remember that we have a lot of ground to catch up on our rivals. We finished sixth last season and everyone’s confidence was at rock bottom towards the end of Arsène Wenger’s tenure. Not only that, but we had a limited budget in the Summer, as we did in January. So the first season was always going to be a period of transition. In a way, it’s different to the rebuild at Chelsea because of just how long Arsène’s reign was. Whereas Sarri’s men are used to managers coming and going, this process is all new to us. Also, as we saw with Klopp at Liverpool & even Pep with City, success isn’t instant and it will take a season or two as well as a major overhaul of players in order to reach our maximum potential. As a result, I think that most fans would agree that finishing fourth would represent a decent season, given the circumstances.
The January transfer window has seen the former Manchester City midfielder Denis Suarez make the move from FC Barcelona to the Emirates. What are your thoughts on the signing?
I think it’s a decent acquisition given our financial restrictions. He probably won’t set the world alight, but he offers us something different. He’s capable of playing both centrally (as a number 8 or behind the striker) as well as out wide on both flanks. Given our luck with injuries in recent years, this is a huge bonus. Even though he broke onto the scene many years ago, he’s only just turned 25 and still has room to grow even more. He’s a gifted dribbler, which is something that we really lack at the club. Apart from Alex Iwobi, we don’t really have any players that can beat defenders with ease, so hopefully he’ll help us in that department. Also, he knows Bellerín from the Spanish youth team & has worked under Unai Emery before while at Sevilla, this will presumably help him adjust to life in England. As a final point, the deal is a loan with an option to buy, rather than an obligation. So, worst case scenario, we can just send him back to Barcelona in the Summer if things don’t work out. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that though, and Denis Suárez can have a long and successful Arsenal career.
The last meeting between these two sides saw a relatively comfortable win at the Emirates for Manchester City. Do you feel this clash will be a different game entirely with Emery being more familiar with his squad?
Unfortunately, I think that this game might be a bit too much to ask from our squad. Manchester City are a tier above us at the moment and will be desperate to return to winning ways after a rare slip up at St James’ Park on Tuesday night. I think we have improved since our last meeting, but this will be a step too far for us and will be another relatively comfortable City victory.
The last round of Premier League games saw a minor change at the top of the Premier League table with Liverpool extending their lead by a point. Who are you backing in this season’s title race?
It’s incredibly tough to call, as both sides have been very consistent for the most part of the season, apart from this past set of midweek fixtures. A five point gap when both sides are performing at a high standard is significant, but by no means unattainable. In the Premier League, no result is set in stone, as West Ham proved against us last month and City themselves found out against Crystal Palace in December. Nonetheless, it is the best title race in years and hopefully it continues in the same vain. Hopefully Manchester City and their fans will be happy with the final outcome.
Arsenal Team Prediction and Score Prediction?
We have an ever-growing injury list so we won’t be able to field our first XI, especially from a defensive point of view, if I was to guess I would say:
Leno – Lichtsteiner – Mustafi – Monreal – Kolasinac – Torreira – Xhaka – Guendouzi – Aubameyang – Lacazette – Iwobi
My score prediction is Manchester City 2-0 Arsenal. Enjoy the game and best of luck for the rest of the season!
You can follow Patrick on twitter here: @PatrickTimmons1