There’s no such thing as an unwinnable game in the Premier League. The beauty of the competition in England is that, on a given day, any team can beat any other.
That level of unpredictability, of just never knowing for sure, is the reason why the Premier League beats any of its European rivals for excitement and entertainment.
This is not Ligue 1, for example, where teams have been known to simply write-off matches against PSG, resting key players for games they deem more winnable and, perhaps in the grand scheme of things, more important to their objectives – be it survival or European qualification.
And while there are plenty of oil-rich teams on these shores, the sheer volume of cash swilling around the top tier of the English game means even the teams in the lower reaches of the league seldom, if ever, head into any match without at least a glimmer of hope.
For all those reasons, Arsenal have to approach their clash with Manchester City as they would any other game, with the simple aim of going out to win. For any number of reasons, I believe that is what Mikel Arteta will do, primarily because that is the sort of competitor he is.
Though a win over City, should Arsenal manage it, would be worth no more in terms of points than any other in the league, it would be worth a great deal more in confidence and belief for a side still developing and trying to find its feet.
That said, we can’t ignore the reality of the circumstances in which we find ourselves this season. Achieving everything we might have hoped for in the league will be fiendishly difficult and will rely on a lot of teams in and around us falling away. Of course, the unlikely can’t become likely by simply giving up but there are no bonus points for valour in the Premier League.
With a must-win Europa League second leg against Benfica looming large next Thursday – a match that will see us travel out to Greece – and an unrelenting run of league fixtures that continue in the weeks after that clash, the manager must find a way to get the best from the resources available to him.
Given the strength, depth, and blistering form of Pep Guardiola’s side since Christmas, you have to wonder if fielding our strongest XI is the wisest course of action. Can we afford, for example, to expose Bukayo Saka to another 90 minutes of hard-pressing and hard-yards against a relentless City side? Does Emile Smith Rowe have another 180 minutes of full-tilt action in his legs in the next week?
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should simply field a reserve XI and set out on 90 minutes of damage-limitation but, with a flurry of more important matches coming soon, the manager will need to be shrewd in his judgement of fatigue. I’d far rather, for example, we had our strongest side available for Benfica than for City – a game that could mean far more for the rest of this campaign.
It’s worth considering also that we have players lurking around the periphery of the squad who are just as in need of minutes on the pitch as some are in need of some time off the field. Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Nicolas Pepe, and Pablo Mari, for example, are desperately short of game time, while the likes of Folarin Balogun, Mohammed Elneny and Callum Chambers could provide much-needed support.
Getting the most out of the matches that remain in this shortened season is going to be an enormous ask, particularly for a squad in the midst of a rebuild and redevelopment such as this. There is, and should never be, such thing as a write-off game for a club of our stature, but there will certainly be games that require a colder, more dispassionate assessment of the facts.
The side Arteta sends out on Sunday will tell us a lot about whether he is looking at this tricky part of the season with his head or with his heart.