Wednesday 15th February, 7:30pm
Man City @11/8
The 2022/23 Premier League season continues to be characterised by oddities.
Manchester United played both of their fixtures against Leeds in the space of a few days. I’m pretty sure Liverpool have played Wolves about seven times since Christmas. Big-spending Chelsea currently sit 10th in the table; and, in the oddest feature of all, Arsenal are still perched at the top.
Another fixture-list quirk has meant, however, that the Gunners haven’t played a league game against their closest challengers, Manchester City. An anomaly that will be rectified at 7:30pm on Wednesday when the defending champions head down to the Emirates for the first of their weighty six-pointers.
Many are talking about this eagerly-awaited clash as having the potential to be the defining game of this season. And yet it is taking place on a Wednesday night.
It’s like the inverse of the hype cataclysm that is the Superbowl: we have the two best teams in the country, meeting for the first time in the Premier League, with seismic ramifications very much on the table…and it’s just getting tossed out in midweek like an old episode of The Bill.
No pre-match national anthem. No endless, ‘hilarious’, themed adverts. No choreographed half-time show with Rihanna performing upon multitudinous levitating slabs. And no attempt to get her British equivalent to do the same! Though I suppose it’s possible Jane McDonald has other things to do this week…
The extent to which a victory in this particular fixture will account for the overall success of the team that goes on to become Premier League champions is something we won’t be able to properly assess until the trophy has been raised into the air.
Current form suggests that Manchester City are slight favourite to triumph. The table shows only a three point gap between the sides; and, due to a superior goal difference, a victory would propel City to the summit – though they would have played a game more than the Gunners.
With just one win in their last three matches ahead of this first Manchester City clash, Arsenal have timed their first stutter of the season very poorly. Attention has also been drawn to the fact that in recent weeks Mikel Arteta has been resolutely picking the same starting XI, so it will be interesting to see if he now feels pressured into finally shuffling his well-worn deck of cards.
Or can he rely on his former mentor, Pep Guardiola, to spectacularly overthink things once again ahead of a big game?
Concern over the fitness of Erling Haaland may mean he will have no choice but to try something a little bit different with his striking tactics. But it remains to be seen if this results in the deployment of a False 9, or Floating 6…or a formation so amorphous and strange and unidentifiable that it runs the risk of being shot at by the US military.
Following the Premier League’s decision to request that an independent commission take a closer look at over 100 potential breaches of its financial rules, Guardiola has appeared to try and initiate some sort of siege-mentality over at the Etihad. And this may well provide the necessary extra motivation he needs to help to power his side towards yet another title success.
But he will be powerless to determine whether Manchester City’s finance team and their phalanx of accountants have successfully operated within the Premier League’s guidelines
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