INTO THE UNKNOWN
It's difficult to know exactly what to expect when the Premier League resumes after its three-month hiatus, but one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of differences from the football we are used to seeing. The main one being, of course, the absence of fans in the stadium. Attendance at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday is limited to playing and coaching staff, broadcasters, members of the media and essential event operators. It's the first time we will ever have played a competitive game behind closed doors, though we did arrange two warm up games at Emirates Stadium under similar conditions in an attempt to ready the team for a very different atmosphere.
The Premier League have introduced a number of other protocols as part of 'Project Restart' as well. Teams will take to the field from the tunnel separately before the game, there will be no handshake between the two sets of players, social distancing should be respected where possible (including in goal celebrations) and players are not to surround match officials. Spitting at someone is a sending off offence and "other acts of spitting or nose cleaning are strongly discouraged."
Perhaps the biggest change in terms of the game though, is that for the rest of the season a total of nine substitutes can be named on the bench, of which five can be used. The only restriction is that managers each have a maximum of three opportunities to make their changes during the game, although replacements made at half-time will not count against the three in-game sub opportunities.
Also in recognition of players' welfare during this congested period during summer months, drinks breaks will be allowed in the second part of each half. This is only the second time we've played a league game in June. The other was back in 1947 - a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United.
It's been 103 days since our last match - a 1-0 home win over West Ham that extended our unbeaten run in the Premier League to eight. That's a longer gap between fixtures than from the end of 2018/19 and the start of this one. So it will be interesting to see how the team has changed over the past three months, and how well the players adapted to working from home. Alexandre Lacazette was our match-winner last time out, but he was a sub that day, and Arteta certainly has plenty of options when it comes to selecting his forward line on Wednesday. Eddie Nketiah, for example, has started three of our last four games, and netted a hat-trick in the warm up game against Charlton.
There are likely to be changes at the back too - Sokratis started at right back in each of our past two games, with Pablo Mari (formerly of Manchester City) in the centre, but the break has enabled players to come back to fitness, and Kieran Tierney could feature for the first time since December - when Freddie Ljungberg was in charge. We could even see a debut for Cedric Soares, who joined us on loan from Southampton back in January, but has been sidelined ever since. The 28-year-old full back would become the 871st different player to play for the club, and the fourth from Portugal, after Luis Boa Morte, Amaury Bischoff and Rui Fonte.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goes into the game on 49 league goals, from 75 appearances in the competition. If he brings up his half century on Wednesday he'll be the sixth fastest player to reach 50 in the Premier League, and the fastest for Arsenal.
He scored his first goal on his debut against Everton at Emirates Stadium on February 3, 2018, going on to score 10 in 13 appearances during his first season in England.
Last term he added 22 more in 36 games to win the Golden Boot, and has scored 17 so far in 2019/20 from 26 appearances, putting him second – two behind Jamie Vardy – in the race of the accolade this campaign.
Overall he'll become the 38th player in the club's history to score 50 league goals, and he is in line to be the fastest since Joe Baker managed it in 62 games in 1963.
Of his 49 goals so far, 38 have come from his right foot, eight from his left and three have been headers. Four have been scored outside the area, and the tally includes six penalties.
He's scored 21 away goals in the competition but is yet to register against Manchester City. Auba has also netted 12 goals in other competitions to take his overall total at Arsenal so far to 61 goals in 97 appearances.
Joe Willock will also bring up a personal milestone if he plays. The academy product has now played 49 times for the first team, since his debut in September 2017.
After the restart, will home advantage disappear along with the fans? Arsenal will certainly hope that's true, in the early days at least, as Wednesday night's match is the first of four consecutive away games - culminating in the FA Cup quarter-final at Sheffield United at the end of the month.
The German Bundesliga resumed a few weeks ago, and up to the weekend exactly half of the 56 games played in empty stadiums since then have been won by the away team, compared to 35 per cent of matches before the pandemic. Home team success rates have dropped from 43 per cent to 21 per cent. Analysis has also found home teams receiving more bookings per game than previously.
All of which should be encouraging ahead of our trip to the north west, especially as Arteta is yet to lose an away game as a manager.
Overall it's seven games undefeated on the road for the boss (three wins, four draws) which is the longest ever unbeaten away start to a managerial reign in our history.
Each of our last five away Premier League games have ended in draws - we have never drawn six league games in succession previously.
But against that - we haven't beaten City away since 2015 and they have won each of the past six meetings in all competitions, home and away.
ARTETA v GUARDIOLA
Mikel Arteta is making his first return to the Etihad Stadium since leaving his role as assistant manager to Pep Guardiola to take up the top job at Arsenal late in December. The Spaniard spent three and a half years alongside Guardiola, helping the team win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup.
Mikel has made no secret of the fact that he sees Guardiola very much as a role model as he starts out on his own managerial career, and Michael Cox of zonalmarking.net outlines why the City boss is so highly regarded.
"Pep Guardiola has faced the Gunners with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City. He’s won three league titles with both Barca and Bayern and now another two with City, although with this season’s title nearly wrapped up by Liverpool, Guardiola’s focus will be on the Champions League, especially with City’s impending ban from that competition.
"Guardiola is famously fond of changing formation from match to match, and with City’s remaining league games having little meaning, he might seek to experiment and test some new tactical ideas. But 4-3-3 is still the basic formation, usually with two attack-minded number 8s in Kevin De Bruyne and one of the Silvas - David or Bernardo."
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