After possibly the worst start to the Premier League season imaginable, Arsenal’s Carabao Cup tie against West Brom could not have gone much better for Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard went strong against an admittedly under strength Baggies side and it paid off with a 6-0 victory that did plenty to boost the mood around the camp ahead.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ended his goal drought, Bukayo Saka got minutes in his legs and Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard made excellent debuts on a fantastic night at the Hawthorns that left the Gunners flying high.
It is a shame then that the return of the Premier League on Saturday has the potential to bring them back down to earth with a brutal bump.
Manchester City away is arguably the toughest fixture in English football and history does not look kindly upon Arsenal’s attempts to defy the odds.
In the past decade the Gunners have won their just once, with eight defeats and 21 goals conceded.
While the record books certainly look favourably upon Pep Guardiola’s side, one thing that Arsenal will want to avoid is making a piece of history of their own by becoming the first Arsenal side since 1953 to go their opening three league games without scoring a goal.
That is the bleak prospect facing Mikel Arteta’s side and before the game the Spaniard admitted his team would need to be mentally prepared for what awaits them on Saturday.
“It’s the level that they read the game and the level that you have to be mentally ready to run for long periods of the game without touching the ball,” he said.
“To do the sacrifice, being prepared to suffer in the right moments.
“But as well having the conviction that we’re going to have our moments in the game and when our opportunities arrive, we have to take them.
“That’s how I want to see the team. That they are fully committed, fully prepared and that they can go to Manchester and believe that we can get the result that we want.”
In order to do that Arteta will want to pick his strongest possible team which for now probably just about includes Bernd Leno.
The German was excellent against Chelsea and perhaps the arrival of Aaron Ramsdale could prove to be a much needed defibrillator to his flailing Arsenal career.
In front of him though is where the problems could start to begin.
In many ways Arteta’s decision is made relatively easy by the absence of his two first choice centre backs.
Ben White has COVID, while Gabriel is unlikely to be involved after playing for the Under-23s in their 2-1 victory over Tottenham on Friday.
Rob Holding actually had quite an assured game against Chelsea and looked good against West Brom, but the rapidly dwindling confidence of Pablo Mari will be an undoubted concern.
Arteta was spotted talking to his compatriot on the bench during Wednesday’s game, and one can only imagine the conversation would have been some sort of post-traumatic therapy after his chastening afternoon against Romelu Lukaku last weekend.
Left back also picks itself with Kieran Tierney fit to play after an injury scare against the Blues, but right back is far more complicated.
When asked about it in his press conference ahead of the game Arteta seemed to imply that he wasn’t quite sure which of his four options was first choice.
“Well we have different options,” he said. “Different qualities with Hector, with Cedric, with Calum, with Ainsley.
We had a lot of issues through the season. They have missed training sessions from COVID, they got injured, some of them they haven’t featured.
“We’re still looking depending to the opponent and the form of each player what we’re gonna do there.”
Based on the threat City offer the pace of Hector Bellerin may have been the smart under normal circumstances now that he is fit again, but with the Spaniard focused on securing a move away before deadline day, Calum Chambers may be favoured instead.
Into midfield and again, limited options dictate what Arteta will be forced to do.
Thomas Partey is still not back in training after an ankle injury, so the seemingly indestructible Granit Xhaka will start again alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga.
There could be an argument for Mohamed Elneny given the Belgian’s questionable defensive positioning at times against Chelsea, but with Arsenal likely to play the game on the counter, Sambi’s quick balls forward will be crucial.
While refusing to admit whether he viewed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a centre forward or a winger, the assumption has to be that the Gabon forward will play up front after his hattrick in midweek despite the return of Alexandre Lacazette.
Behind him though is much more complicated.
Emile Smith Rowe has been the Gunners’ best player so far this season, but his tendency to drift wide to combine with teammates mean Arsenal lack centrality in possession.
Martin Odegaard is an antidote to this problem, but the Norwegian’s presence in the team means Smith Rowe must be forced wide to the left.
That in turn requires a positional shift for Bukayo Saka who after opening his account for the campaign at the Hawthorns will be looking to add some more end product to proceedings from the right.
All this means that the unlucky spare player is Nicolas Pepe who has actually been one of Arsenal’s brighter sparks this season despite failing to net in either of the opening two Premier League matches.
That’s not to say the Ivorian won’t be involved though. With Arsenal looking to play on the counter his threat in behind be crucial off the bench of the Gunners are still in the game late on.
Arsenal predicted XI vs Manchester City – Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Sambi, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Aubameyang.