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We come now to as good a yardstick as we could ask for to assess whether Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team has progressed to the level required to win the Premier League. Tomorrow, we host the current league leaders, a club that has set the pace in recent seasons. Guardiola’s teams have raised the bar to win the Premier League title to such a degree that a single failure to take 3 points feels like a mortal wound to the hopes of any competitor. We do, of course, all know why this hitherto unremarkable club have risen to such a pinnacle of success and we await, with interest, the outcome of the FA panel’s deliberations and the recently revealed discussions between the UAE government and the FCO which must surely also be informed by revelations of this club’s owner’s alleged accommodating relationship with Roman Abramovic. 

Abou Dhabi Citeh come into this match after a brief wobble at the end of September, losing 0-1 to Riyadh United in a league cup tie in which the absence of Rodri in their midfield was noticeable, closely followed by a 1-2 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers which surprised everyone after their imperious hundred percent winning start to the season. Of course, there was also, at the beginning of the season, the small blemish of losing the Charity Shield 1-4 on penalties to the Arsenal. Whether that result gives a boost to our players’ confidence and a psychological edge or rather an incentive to the UAE mercenaries remains to be seen. I suspect it will have little impact on tomorrow’s proceedings.

We need no detailed analysis of our opponents’ personnel, most of whom are very familiar to us as is the strength in depth of their expensively assembled mercenaries which has proved a major obstacle to Arsenal’s Premier League ambitions in recent seasons. This summer they again strengthened throughout their squad. They have added Gvardiol to their centre back roster – a big defender with ball skills; the solid but somewhat pedestrian Kovacic to midfield – a slightly desperate move to replace the much more mobile and effective Gundogan; Nunes (who went on strike to secure the move from Wolves and received a highly appropriate reception last week at Molineux) to midfield possibly as next season’s replacement for Silva; and Doku, a tricky, pacy and dangerous looking winger from Rennes. The UAE sports washers did get back to winning ways on Wednesday with a competent display in Leipzig where home-grown, youth prospect Rico Lewis was man of the match in midfield. The absence of De Bruyne through injury and Rodri through suspension following a red card for aggravated assault deprives their engine room of considerable experience but the impact on their attacking threat through the loss of the Belgian is likely to be less, given their other riches, than the possible impact on their defensive solidity of Rodri’s absence to which can be added the probable absence of Stones.

The impact of non-availability of our own possible absentees will almost certainly be greater. A copious quantity of virtual ink has been shed on the possible absence of Saka and our options after he limped off the Lens pitch in the first half with what was subsequently described as a ‘mild hamstring strain’. Saka has since been subject to daily fitness assessments. Meanwhile, those ‘fans’ in possession of high quality retrospectoscopes have been castigating Arteta and his medical team for having selected Saka on Tuesday in the hope that our strongest team might win crucial points against the strongest opponent in our Champions League group. 

As I began this preview it seemed likely that neither Saka nor Martinelli would be fit for this match. After Saka limped off on Tuesday, we saw the extent to which our attack is less dynamic and penetrative without both our first-choice wide men. Optimistic noises about Saka’s resilience came out of Arsenal on Wednesday but, given the diagnosis, were he to start on Sunday, much of the smart money would be on Saka not lasting the whole match or even the first half – he hasn’t lasted 90 minutes in any of his last three games! Our own Sports Medicine guru, Trev, observed in the last Drinks that even if this is only a mild hamstring strain, he would recommend four weeks of rest, otherwise the injury is likely to be aggravated and Saka’s absence longer. A long break would be eminently possible given the forthcoming Interlull although Southgate has selected him in the England squad for a meaningless friendly against the Convicts and a home Euro qualifier against Italy who are in disarray. Southgate should know by now what Saka brings to his team and be exploring alternative options with the other players at his disposal, rather than risking a key player’s longterm fitness. However, in his press conference on Friday, when asked about Saka’s involvement in this game, Mikel Arteta said, “Well, he’s in contention. Let’s see how he progresses from here to Sunday….let’s see how he recovers!” Arteta’s expression and usual dead pan delivery was straight out of a poker game. Who knows whether Saka will start?

Meanwhile Martinelli’s current fitness is shrouded in mystery. On Thursday’s She Wore blog, Keenos provided a detailed analysis of our options to replace these two players. I agree with much of his analysis. Vieira proved yet again on Tuesday that he cannot reproduce Saka’s threat on the right wing, having already demonstrated that on several previous occasions; the Portuguese has a lot of skill but has neither the pace, drive or left foot to reproduce our boy genius’ contribution. Keenos made the interesting observation that Havertz played as a right sided attacker very successfully in Germany (50 times, scoring 18, assisting 11) though he hasn’t played on the right wing regularly since 2019. However, Keenos plumped for Trossard to replace Saka because his two-footedness would allow him to reproduce Saka’s inverted role, rejecting Nelson as his right-footed dominance would change the dynamic and interactions that Saka brings to our offensive right flank. Keenos also argued that ESR would be his choice on the left flank in Martinelli’s absence as he is the most likely of our options to pin Walker back with his offensive threat and potentially also give the right back a roasting.

Arsenal have not beaten Abou Dhabi Citeh in a Premier League match since our 2-1 victory in December 2015 under Arsène Wenger and we have lost our last 12 league meetings, the last being the 4-1 defeat in April that finally blew up our title challenge. However, despite the disappointing run of three draws that preceded that last league game against tomorrow’s opponents, that defeat and the 1-3 reverse in February’s re-arranged game at the Emirates were decisive in the destination of last season’s Premier League trophy. The Arsenal finished a mere 5 points behind Abou Dhabi and an Arsenal win in just one of those encounters would have seen us win the league by one point. The Athletic (£) provides an excellent analysis of the impact of head-to-head games between the top two Premier League teams on the destination of the title. They state that only six times in the 31 Premier League seasons to date have the ultimate champions done the double over the club that finished second and that in five of these six seasons the resultant 12 point swing was crucial as the title was won by five points or less.

So, given Abou Dhabi’s aforementioned raising of the bar and the points tally required to win the league, Kevin Campbell, quoted on the BBC site, may be correct in his assertion that “Arsenal do need to win this game. Any designs to win that title – they have to take points off Man City.” On the other hand, Mikel Arteta appeared at first sight to downplay the game’s potential significance when asked in his pre-match press conference if it’s a season-defining match, “No, it would be a big boost, energy and confidence-wise, but apart from that and the three points, nothing else.” However the boss isn’t going to give a hostage to fortune and add to the media pressure at this stage of the season. I agree with Kevin Campbell on the significance of this match – if we are to win the league – and get over the mental barrier that must exist after this run of league defeats, now is a good time to lay that ghost. An Arsenal win doesn’t guarantee that we win the league nor does a defeat extinguish our challenge but this game’s result is the best available yardstick of our potential to win the Premier League this season. At the very least, we must not lose this game and, be under no illusion, Guardiola knows the importance of beating his main Premier League competitors and his players will be primed to go for our jugular in the manner they displayed in both of last season’s league encounters. 

Unquestionably, if Saka is anywhere close to full fitness, he will start. The importance of this match to our league challenge and Saka’s importance to our attacking threat plus the negative impact of his absence in the last hour of our game on Tuesday suggests that we will do everything we can do to get him fit to start – including perhaps horse placenta baths and the laying on of hands by Jesús? Arteta has previously praised Saka’s remarkable powers of recovery and there is no doubt in my mind that Saka will want to play unless the medics forbid it. Indeed, the back page of Saturday’s Times has an article by Gary Jacob headlined: ‘Arsenal boost as Saka is passed fit for City clash’. Whether Gary Jacob has a source inside Arsenal, is over-interpreting Arteta’s “He is in contention” or is just making it up, he writes that ‘a scan on the England forward’s left leg has allayed fears he had suffered a serious injury’. Moreover, he underlines Saka’s importance to this Arsenal team with the stat that Saka has been involved in 10 of our 21 goals this season. I do suspect that Saka will start this game though I can hear Trev’s cautionary words in my ear. I can only trust Mikel Arteta’s judgement on this (he has certainly earned that trust) and pray to Zeus, Wotan and Jehovah for a successful outcome. 

On the other hand, it seems likely that Martinelli will not be available. Late news from reliable sources on Twitter (Yes, I know!), report that Martinelli, who last played on 17th September and has missed the last 5 games, has been doing gym work this week but has not yet been cleared by the medics to train with the first team. However, there is some good news on the injury front as Thomas Partey has recovered earlier than expected from his knock, was an unused sub on Tuesday and presumably has been a participant in training for at least a week. I expect him to be a late reinforcement from the bench in this game rather than starting as an inverted right back!

I expect Raya to retain his starting position in goal as he does now seem to be established as Arteta’s first choice keeper. However, that is by no means a universal Gooner opinion and his rick for the equaliser on Tuesday seemed as decisive a turning point in the Lens match as Saka’s departure. I would start Tomiyasu at left back because of the threat from Walker who will certainly be ready to exploit the space left by Zinchenko when we inevitably turn over the ball high up the pitch. Opposition teams all now seem to know that we have that Achilles heel and Pep will certainly be ready to exploit it. That is the downside of the added body that Zinchenko’s role brings to our midfield build up and because his contribution is generally so significant, I would start Zinchenko as the ‘left 6/8’ in place of Havertz, relying on Saliba and Gabriel to deal with the aerial threat of Haaland at set pieces. However I don’t expect Arteta to do this although it does offer the kind of surprise for which he seems to look these days.

Therefore, I have taken the liberty of offering my selection as well as the XI I expect from Mikel Arteta. In the expectation that Saka passes his fitness test on Sunday, the bathgooner starting eleven would be:


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu;

Ødegaard, Rice, Zinchenko;

Saka, Jesús, ESR.

On the other hand, I expect the following starting XI from Mikel:


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko;

Ødegaard, Rice, Havertz;

Saka, Jesús, Trossard.

Who am I to argue with the man?

“The Holic Pound?” I hear you ask.

Arsenal are generally just short of 2/1 to win, with the draw around 12/5. Jesús, Saka, Ødegaard, Nketiah, Trossard and Martinelli are all around 3/1 to score. You can get 11/1 on either 1-0 or 2-1 to the Arsenal but if you’re feeling optimistic, you can get 25/1 on 3-1 to the Arsenal while the cautious bet might be the 12/1 on 2-2.

Wherever in the world you are watching this game, Holics, I sincerely hope you enjoy it immensely. I shall be keeping TTG’s throne in the North Bank Upper warm while he downs pink gins on his schooner on the Broads. Or was it, with the broads?


Let’s do this!

47 Drinks to “DO IT AGAIN!”

  1. 1
    Ollie says:

    I shall get reading, but quite extroardinarily really, I was listening to Queens of The Stone Age’s Songs For the Deaf, the song playing was indeed. ‘Do It Again’ and Josh Homme was repeating these very words at the end of the song at the very time I refreshed tha page, noticed the >>>>> clicked towards the new blog and saw its title. Wow!
    Cheers baff.

  2. 2
    Ollie says:

    I like that. Enjoy the match. Ballot-induced match attendance skipping there, and given kick-off time, I didn’t get out of my way to book travel in hope and scour Ticket Exchange.
    Bring us luck and the fitness Gods!

  3. 3
    Noosa Gooner says:

    Excellent preview thanks Bath,
    I am not too fussed with who MA starts in this game but I’m in agreement that we absolutely need to win this one for a variety of reasons mostly touched upon above. Given their absentees there is probably not a better time to do so. It may also help if someone could give Haaland a Keownesque welcome to the Emirates early on.

  4. 4
    Ollie says:

    Noose, if he could also miss a penalty as part of that process, that would be even better.

  5. 5
    Ollie says:

    Noosa.I’m not ready for a hanging yet.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Good quote re VAR:

    Pochettino says he ‘trust the car but the driver is the problem’

  7. 7
    North Bank Ned says:

    Excellent preview, Bath. Nothing to disagree with. As you suggest, this will be a game whose outcome may well turn on who is not playing, but it is one we need to win and certainly not lose. I am expecting a nervous watch from behind the couch.

  8. 8
    bt8 says:

    Actually, Pochettino probably used the correct conjugation (trusts) and I mistyped it.

  9. 9
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Bath for an excellent and comprehensive preview. I think you put the doubt into Abou Dhabi Citeh about how many goals Bukayo will ring up against them. 😎

  10. 10
    Trev says:

    Epic, Bath – comprehensive preview and I prefer ‘your’ team to the one you expect to start.

    This is truly one of those games where literally any win will be just great. The league ‘needs’ us to win – we need to not lose.

  11. 11
    TTG says:

    An excellent report bar the libellous reference to myself ! I don’t like gin and as far as schooners are concerned I prefer port in them…and the only Broad I gave discovered is Mrs TTG .
    I like your suggested team much better than the one you think Arteta will go with . This season Arteta’s team selections have been more varied and surprising . I think Saka will start ( Gary Jacob has good contacts at Arsenal but I believe he may be a closet Spud.)
    I’d go with Partey and Rice as a double pivot , Tomayisu at LB and Trossard wide left ( he did well at Wembley ) .
    Citeh will miss their absentees but schooled us last season. This should be closer and may end in a 1-1 draw . That wouldn’t be a disaster

  12. 12
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks Bath for a comprehensive preview, articulated with just the right degree of noble disdain for the artificially muscled enemy and all their facilitators.

    I like your team, and in Gabi’s absence ESR is a good choice. But if Saka is fit enough I assume he will start, in which case Trossard is likelier in that left wing. I do think there is a lot of merit in playing Zinchenko in the left sided #8 role instead of Kai and playing Tomiyasu as the left back.

    Arteta may also want to seriously consider TTG’s advice for this match and switch the formation around by playing Partey-Rice double pivot and positioning Ødegaard more centrally and closer to the penalty box.

    Nothing is forever. Every losing streak ends sooner or later. Let’s end this one this Sunday.

    Come on Arsenal!

  13. 13
    bt8 says:

    Seeing as we here were reports of Real Madrid wanting to steal Saliba away from us, isn’t it about the time we put in. A pre-emptive strike and sign 🛎️ingham from under their noses? He seems to score at will these days with two more today.


  14. 14
    TTG says:

    I think we spotted the incredible potential of Bellingham when he was 16 and tried very hard to sign him but his advisers ( family) suggested the move to Dortmund from Birmingham and thence to Madrid . He is a generational talent and would enhance any team. I expect him to be a huge presence in the England team for many years to come .. we do have two young players of huge potential coming through in Lewis-Skelly and Nwaneri . Will Arteta be willing and able to give them the sort of opportunity that Bellingham had at age 16 at a lower level ?

  15. 15
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks for the kind words, fellas.

    Until this evening I didn’t get round to reading Tim Stillman’s analysis of our goalkeeping situation which Ollie linked in the last set of Drinks. It’s a very thoughtful piece and as a result of reading it, I am convinced that Arteta has rational grounds for selecting Raya over Ramsdale and I too would now select Raya in my team for tomorrow.

  16. 16
    BtM says:

    Excellent, detailed preview, Bath. Like TTG, I’d like to see both Partey and Rice partner MO in midfield. Saka will start and I see some speculation this morning that Martinelli may also feature.

    Definitely time for a home win. Enjoy the game.

  17. 17
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Bath, an excellent preview and 2-1 to The Arsenal sounds just right.
    It is a big game and I love that we are playing in them again but no doubt
    it’s going to be a nail-biter. I will hide behind the couch while hoping
    the team have steelier nerves than mine.
    Of course, if we race to a 3-0 Leda and cruise home, I’ll be good with that too 🙂

  18. 18
    OsakaMatt says:

    3-0 Leda?? No idea how spillchucker came up with that……

  19. 19
    bt8 says:

    Olivier Giroud is roounding off a very interesting and distinguished career. These 7 minutes were one of his more unusual episodes, but he can now be even closer to saying he has done it all.


  20. 20
    bt8 says:

    3-0 Leda, Matt? Must be the new name of Swansea’s mascot.

  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Arseblog today agrees with you Bath on that particular three man midfield

    “I also wonder if Thomas Partey’s availability might see him return to the starting line-up. I don’t know if he’s got 90 minutes in his legs, but a midfield of him, Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard could potentially dominate a key area of the pitch – especially in the absence of Rodri.”

    I too would love to see Rice, Thomas and Martin doing the business I think they coyld do if given the chance.

  22. 22
    Countryman100 says:

    A truly fabulous preview Bath. I’ll be below you in the North Bank Lower. For all those going sing your hearts out, put pressure on the multi fouling City and channel that moment when Arteta thumped it home and we all did the Posnan.

  23. 23
    Cent says:

    Excellent preview, Bath.
    I seem to be as less stressed about the outcome of this game as I have been for a while now. Hopefully, this means that my subconscious knows something positive about our chances that hasn’t quite come to my consciousness yet. Just win! COYG.

  24. 24
    Uplympian says:

    Many thanks Bath for a truly comprehensive review – no stones left unturned ( and probably no Stones on the pitch either .
    Todays fixture is an interesting match up with The Arse’s team starting xl uncertain due to various players fitness level and ADC missing players who have been instrumental in putting us to the sword these past few seasons – Kev Brown & Rodri in particular. Of course they have Droid Haaland to test our defence along with the ever useful Alvarez quietly putting the ball in the net on a regular basis. Despite these 2 protagonists today is a good opportunity put an end to this losing streak – just top level motivation, aspiration and perspiration. 2-1 to the good guys but any win will be very nice.

  25. 25
    Las says:

    Cheers Bath, excellent preview! I hope MA8 read this blog and choose “your” team instead of “his”. 🙂 I have the butterflys in my stomach and I’m sort of anxious. I had the feeling that we could have beaten Citeh in the last two years in any of those games but now I don ‘t know. But as Dr. F said nothing is forever.
    Come on you Arsenal!

  26. 26
    Esso says:

    Cheers Baff!

  27. 27
    Esso says:

    As yet unconfirmed starting X1

    Raya, Saliba, White, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard, Jorginho, Rice, Jesus, Nketiah, Trossard.

  28. 28
    Bathgooner says:

    Esso, One of my all time favourite albums. A landmark when it came out. Every track a winner.


  29. 29
    Esso says:

  30. 30
    Lonestar Gooner says:

    What an effort…comprehensive is an understatement. I hope today’s result justifies your expenditure of mental stamina, Baff!

    As for the result, who knows. It’s up to the lads to go out there and take it. To paraphrase Machiavelli, fate must be conquered by force.

    L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’adace!


  31. 31
    Bosnian Gooner says:

    Good game…great win…such an inspiring performance!

    Proud of the boys!!!

  32. 32
    North Bank Ned says:

    Outstanding performance tactically and technically. Not a title-defining win but a distinct step in that direction and another psychological dragon slayed.

  33. 33
    bt8 says:

    1-0 to the Arsenal 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

  34. 34
    OsakaMatt says:

    It’s safe to emerge from behind the couch

  35. 35
    OsakaMatt says:

    We can say a lot later but just now fuck I am so happy to get that bastard off our back

  36. 36
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@35: 👍

  37. 37
    bt8 says:

    We are now level with City for the fewest goals conceded (6) in the league after 8 matches played. If we can keep that up we really will be in with a shot.

  38. 38
    Bathgooner says:




    Went to to toe with the European champions, rode our luck on a couple of early errors but kept their forwards on the leash and gave them barely another sniff on goal.

    Every man won his duels and while I would have settled for a hard earned, honourable draw at 80 minutes, the wonderful Martinelli whose dynamism added SO much to our threat pulled the three point rabbit out of the hat.

    Saliba, Gabriel, Rice, Jorginho, Ødegaard and Jesús were magnificent. The others were simply very, very good though Trossard was a tad under involved.

    Make no mistake, this game was a rite of passage for this young team and as Peter might say, ‘a sliding door moment!’ As Merse might say, “It’s got to give them unbelievable belief!”

    Well done you Gunners.

    Now…. DO IT AGAIN!

  39. 39
    Esso says:

    We love you Arsenal we do
    We love you Arsenal we do
    We love you Arsenal we do

  40. 40
    bt8 says:

    Just for the record, I was prescient. So much so that I was a weak early with my prediction in the Bournemouth preview: “I am hoping to see Gabriel Martinelli make his return in a late cameo and if so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come up with the winning goal in a jolly old 1-0 to the Arsenal.”

    Not quite good enough for the bookmakers but worth mentioning, surely.

  41. 41
    bt8 says:

    Oh, and what Esso said @39.

  42. 42
    bt8 says:

    Big news from our CL group:

    Sevilla sack Jose Luis Mendilibar as head coach after seven months on the job, during which he led them to their seventh Europa League title. Apparently management viewed seven as unlucky

  43. 43
    bt8 says:

    At the end of the Arseblog News players ratings there is this pertinent note:

    Bonus rating

    0/10 – Michael Oliver. It’s tough enough against Man City, but it doesn’t help when a referee – who has recently been on a paid gig in the UAE – makes a ‘mistake’ like that.

  44. 44
    bt8 says:

    It is so discouraging to think that Oliver is considered to be one of the best referees that PGMOL has in its putrid stable.

  45. 45
    North Bank Ned says:

    bt8@43: If Sevilla considers seven unlucky, then they are seriously starcrossed. 777 Partners, the would-be owners of Everton, are minority shareholders in the Spanish club.

  46. 46
    OsakaMatt says:

    @43 yeah regardless of anything else, simply the look of that is just terrible bt8.
    One of the inevitable results of letting nation states own teams. To be fair Barcelona aren’t owned by a nation state and it seems they were bribing refs for years. Both clubs should be booted of course but I am not optimistic on that.

    Anyway, great win so I’ll forget about the pathetic cheats and enjoy the win. We have pulled Saka and Saliba from the international games too, which is good. Two weeks off all round should be the shout

  47. 47
    Pangloss says: