The Premier League resumes on the 17th of this month after being shut for more than three months. The Gunners fans are unsurprisingly excited as their team travels to the Etihad Stadium for the City vs Arsenal fixture, which has been long overdue. However, the game will be held behind closed doors without the presence of any crowd.
It’s the sort of experiment no one wanted, top-flight premiership football behind closed doors, but I’d rather that than none at all. The BBC and ITV have just been desperately unimaginative during football wilderness of lockdown and the offer of real football of any kind makes the pulse race.
So, it’s nearly upon us but the return of the Premier League after a long lay off could benefit some clubs more than others. Most have managed to resume training, with Arsenal being one of the first during isolation.
What can we expect?
The City vs Arsenal match is going to be more like a big-budget training session and quite how that impacts on the game is a mystery. Players often refer to the crowd as the 12th man but he’s locked out for the foreseeable future, so it could be difficult for players to raise their game when the chips are down.
Come to think of it, a goal celebration may be a more sedate affair. No more running the length of the pitch to launch into a Thierry Henry style celebration, ripping up the turf with downturned boots or straddling the corner flag awaiting their rightful applause. Probably more of a pat on the back affair or a lukewarm embrace. Something to think about…anyway.
Manchester City v Arsenal at the Etihad could possibly mean a level playing field because none of the sides competing at the top or the bottom will be completely match-fit for a full 90 minutes. You would rightfully expect a bit of a patchy game as the players try to find their level and link up with their colleagues in the same way they did before lockdown.
It may be of slower tempo without the urgency of the crowd and it may fall short of our usual expectations, but the fact that we’re able to watch something somewhere will suit the majority. The big question is how do you compensate for the loss of 60 thousand supporters and the noise they generate?
Premier League clubs including Brighton are thought to be looking at ways of installing a fake crowd noise system that generates artificial of ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and presumably ‘are you blind ref ?’ to help assist in the creation of an atmosphere. I’ve left out a number of unsavoury and unprintable alternatives.
Formations and substitutions will presumably be key but also additions to the squads. Arteta is looking to integrate some players from the academy including midfielder and playmaker Matthew Smith (19), attacking midfielder Trae Coyle (19), and defender Zech Medley (19).
The two managers know one another inside out and the Manchester City vs Arsenal game will be a test of resilience after the pandemic as they try to reboot their season. A Manchester City win wouldn’t exactly put them on the coat-tails of Liverpool, but they know that they could reduce the deficit on the leaders if the Merseysider’s start falters regularly.
Before the enforced break, the first Premier League title for Liverpool in 30 years was pretty much a formality but it would be interesting if they struggled initially.
I’m not suggesting that Guardiola will believe for a second that he can overturn a massive 25 point gap, but winning becomes a mentality and the Spanish boss will be looking forward to next season in the hope of being more competitive.
Arteta has patched up his side and tinkered tentatively. The enforced break has allowed him time to take stock of his team and their situation and no doubt he has an even clearer idea of who stays and goes in the summer.
It has also helped with the recovery of injured players and eased the pressure to rush them back. He now has defensive, midfield, left-sided, and strike options to consider, but a coach likes that kind of headache.
Realistically, a draw in the Manchester City vs Arsenal fixture is the most likely result with both sides and their coaches experiencing an alien way of playing the game. Don’t expect too much, in fact, expect nothing at all and we can probably use it as a starting point under these infernal social distancing rules.
Believe me, when I say that crowds will be back in place fairly quickly, even if it’s based on a financial need. The Government is well aware that a prolonged spell of crowd-less football may have lasting consequences on the domestic game. For now, it’s football but not as we know it. Most of us will settle for that.