Despite our inability to muster any form of consistency throughout a turbulent season, we’ve somehow got a great chance at some silverware.
The League Cup has been derided for many years, but in recent seasons, some of the elite have gone all out to claim the trophy. And what’s not to desire?
It is a Wembley trip for fans, it’s a trophy in what is becoming a lethal battleground for glory. to win a cup is harder than ever, so Arsene Wenger must be delighted we’re just one game away from lifting silverware.
It also represents the only domestic trophy he has never won, and winning it would mean he joins an elite group of managers. His opponent that blocks his path to the annals of history though, couldn’t be much tougher.
Pep Guardiola’s City side are walking away with the title and are looking a tasty bet for the Champions League, although it is rather early to say. We’ve only beaten them once in the last five games and we sit a massive 27 points behind them in the Premier League table.
There are strands of optimism to latch onto though.
Claudio Bravo will be taking City’s goalkeeping spot ahead of the effervescent Ederson, and the former Barca man may be talented, but his own way of commanding his area has not translated well to our shores. He represents a weakness in the City juggernaut.
Then there is the defence. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are well covered by Pep’s attention to detail and his need for an effective press, but when pressured, their insistence to play out from the back can be preyed upon.
Still, we need to be at our best to use these weaknesses as weapons, and we haven’t been anywhere near that for some time. We’ve hit splashes of form – our North London Derby win earlier in the season was particularly effective, and our games against Chelsea have shown we can knuckle down and play a different way.
They’ve been few and far between though.
In terms of team news, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is cup-tied, so it looks as if Jack Wilshere will take his place in the side. Mesut Ozil should return after illness and Aaron Ramsey – he who is making a welcome habit of having an impact in cup finals – looks set to return too.
In defence, we should be able to recall Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal to our defence. That is a huge boost as without them we are as weak as kittens fighting off any form of attack – and City have one of the best.
Gabriel Jesus is available for selection, but with Aguero on form it may be a place on the bench for the fit-again Brazilian. Kevin DeBruyne will provide the ammo, but Raheem Sterling is nursing a muscle strain and could miss out. Fabian Delph is suspended.
There will be many key areas that we need to win on the pitch if we’re to harbour any hope of upsetting the odds. Midfield is certainly the most important.
If Granit Xhaka and Rambo can take control in the engine room, then they can make sure that City’s defence is kept in a pressure cooker, and when they play out from deep, we can keep a high line and eke out mistakes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is vital to this plan.
The Gabon striker is lightning-heeled, and if he presses effectively, then the likes of Otamendi, Stones or Laporte and Gundogan could be pushed into corners. Pivotal to City is David Silva.
The little Spaniard so often provides the link between DeBruyne and midfield, and if he’s allowed any space, then the battle is lost. Xhaka needs to pick up his runners more effectively, and if he does then half the battle is won.
Another talking point has been whether to use a 3-man defence. It seems to be better suited to combat City’s attack, and when Nacho is more central, then we seem a little tougher to beat.
This could prove to be a turning point in our season, a catalyst. Or it could be a false dawn. Either way, we should be giving everything to this cause – something our players can’t claim to have done for a while.
Predicted scoreline – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Aubameyang
Predicted scoreline – 3-2 to The Arsenal. #UTA