Arsenal have their first of two huge back-to-back Premier League clashes on Sunday as they host league leaders Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal have not beaten City in the Premier League since 2015 and the odds are stacked firmly against them, despite the improvements that have been witnessed since the turn of the year.
In reality, a point would be a superb result for Mikel Arteta’s side, who may well have one eye cast towards Thursday’s Europa League clash against Benfica in Athens, where the tie is delicately poised following a 1-1 draw in the first-leg.
As usual, Arsenal were in training on Saturday ahead of the clash with City and there were a number of things that stood out.
Partey watches on
Thomas Partey has quickly established himself as a fan favourite and a key member of Mikel Arteta’s side this season, but his debut campaign in the Premier League has unfortunately also been marred by injuries.
The latest setback will keep the former Atletico Madrid man out of the clash against Manchester City and also meant he was unable to be involved in full training.
Partey was, however, pictured peeking through the netting at London Colney and keeping tabs on his teammates, perhaps providing some advice to his fellow midfielders.
His emergence onto the training field suggests that he was involved in his own individual session, which represents another hurdle that has been overcome in his push to return to full fitness.
Willian has struggled to make an impact at Arsenal following his move across London from Chelsea last summer and it has been an awful week for the Brazilian.
Following the 1-1 draw with Benfica, Arsenal issued a statement after Willian was the latest player to be subjected to alleged racist abuse on social media, with Eddie Nketiah, Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin also receiving abuse this season.
It is further evidence of a deep-lying issue within football, and indeed society, which continues to rear it’s ugly head on social media platforms, one that needs to be combated to eliminate the issue.
Thankfully, Willian was pictured full of spirits in Arsenal’s training session and was not letting the incident weigh him down, which was good to see.
Aubameyang getting stuck in
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to Arsenal’s starting line-up with a vengeance last weekend, sinking Leeds United with his first Premier League hat-trick.
The Gunners’ captain has not always been at his prolific best in front of goal this season, having been outscored by Alexandre Lacazette, but his efforts last weekend should serve as a warning to those doubting him as we head into the latter stages of the season.
Aubameyang‘s role in the Arsenal squad goes beyond just scoring goals though, with his contribution across the field and his wealth of experience vital in a squad that has plenty of young players.
The forward was pictured practising his off the ball efforts in training, showing his willingness to lunge into a tackle in an attempt to dispossess Gabriel Magalhaes.
Pressing from the front is a key-part of Mikel Arteta’s tactics and will be integral to the game plan against a City side likely to have the lion’s share of possession on Sunday.
Opportunities have declined for Lacazette recently, having been benched for the last two matches, and Eddie Nketiah’s chances have been reduced to just 10 minutes of Premier League action since Boxing Day.
The pair could in fact both be on their way out of the club this summer, having entered the final 18 months of their contracts – which means Arsenal may listen to offers in order to receive a fee for their services and not lose them for nothing at the end of next season.
Still, the pair are continuing their work in order to be ready when called upon and confidently practised their celebrations ahead of the clash against City.
Goal-scoring chances against Guardiola’s side may be difficult to come by on Sunday, so the confidence of the two forwards is encouraging – although it remains to be seen whether Lacazette features and it’s extremely unlikely that Nketiah will make an appearance.
Willian and Martinelli
Arsenal fans have not been afraid to express their frustrations in recent weeks in regards to substitutions, with Willian regularly given the nod by Mikel Arteta ahead of Gabriel Martinelli.
The supporters are keen to see more of their young forward, who burst onto the scene last season but then had his development hampered by a long-term injury problem – though he is now fit and raring to go.
With Nicolas Pepe, Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard among those vying for attacking places ahead of them, the pair have had to be patient waiting for their opportunities.
Given the wealth of options, opportunities for Willian and Martinelli are likely to come at the expense of each other and that puts them in direct competition with one another.
That doesn’t appear to have affected their friendship though, with the pair pictured together alongside one another on a number of occasions in the latest images.
It bodes well for Arteta, as he’ll need the full depth of his squad to be ready to go whenever called upon as the season ticks into the most crucial point.