Arsenal-Manchester City Preview
It may be a homecoming for Mikael Arteta, but the reception might feel like being around a hornet's nest as his Arsenal squad face what should be a very motivated Manchester City side Wednesday at the Etihad.
Arteta was a key part of Pep Guardiola's staff as Manchester City rolled to back-to-back Premier League titles, including last season's historic run to be the first centurions in English football. He joined Guardiola when the fellow Spaniard arrived on the blue side of Manchester in 2016 as his compatriot beat out former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino for his services.
But the former Gunners midfielder - passed over two seasons ago when Arsenal opted for Unai Emery to succeed Wenger - is now in charge of the north London side following Emery's inability to push them forward into contention for Champions League places as they toil in the Europa League for a third consecutive term.
"It's going to be a very special night. I'm very excited to get back there," Arteta said at his Monday press conference. "Now I'm in a different position on a different bench. I will defend my club as well as I can."
The defence for Arsenal (9-13-6) has been on the upswing of late, recording five clean sheets in seven matches across all competitions following Saturday's 1-0 victory over West Ham United. Alexander Lacazette's goal on 78 minutes separated the sides as the Gunners ran their domestic unbeaten streak to eight matches (4-4-0), but they are still not gaining much upward traction in the table.
Arteta, though, is eager to see what his side can do against his former club and will try to use his inside knowledge to spring a shock result.
"It gives me a very clear idea of what they are trying to do, what they will be looking to do," the 37-year-old manager said, "but it's something different to be able to stop that and as well create the issues that I think we can create for them. That has to happen on the day, when they are at their best, we know what they are capable of doing, the variation they have. At the end of the day, it's about the players on the pitch and their performance."
Arsenal enter this contest ninth on 40 points and five back of Manchester United for fifth, which could carry the final Champions League spot if UEFA's two-year ban on European play for Manchester City for financial irregularities is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Arteta will be without midfielder Lucas Torreira, who suffered a fractured ankle in their fifth-round FA Cup victory over Portsmouth and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Defender Shkodran Mustafi will likely be a match-time decision as he tries to overcome a thigh injury that kept him out of Saturday's victory.
Arteta's former club are still on line for a domestic double as they too are in the FA Cup quarterfinals, but a spate of injuries means it would not be surprising to see Guardiola look deeper into his bench to keep his powder dry ahead of their second-leg round of 16 Champions League at home versus Real Madrid on March 17 as they try to protect a 2-1 lead.
Kevin De Bruyne, who sat out the last two matches - including City's Carabao Cup triumph over Aston Villa - with a back injury, could be in line for a return, but the Belgium international likely will not play this contest and Saturday's at Burnley ahead of the Real match. Sergio Aguero, though, is more likely to miss out Wednesday after being treated for a knock that forced him out of Sunday's 2-0 derby loss to United.
Also unavailable is centre back Aymeric Laporte, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury, and while Leroy Sane has resumed training with the first team, this match is still too soon for his return from a ruptured cruciate.
Guardiola tipped Ederson for a return to his customary form after the keeper was beaten short side by Anthony Martial for the derby's opening goal and another gaffe that led to United sealing the victory.
"He saved one or two, he's an exceptional goalkeeper," Guardiola told City's official website. "I don't come to judge my players, mistakes are part of the game. He will recover and is an exceptional goalkeeper. He's an extraordinary keeper. That's the only thing I can say.
"It's part of the game so next time he's going to be better. He's an extraordinary player. The way we needed the build-up, sometimes it happens."
City are seeking a third consecutive league double over Arsenal and seventh straight win in the series after administering a 3-0 hiding at the Emirates in December when Freddie Ljungberg was caretaker manager of the Gunners.
De Bruyne had a first-half brace around setting up a goal by Raheem Sterling, and City have outscored Arsenal 17-2 during their current run over the Gunners.
Updated March 9, 2020