History is on Arsenal’s side for the encounter against Manchester City. Including the League Cup, City have lost 21 of their last 28 visits to Arsenal, failing to score in 18 of those games.
I haven’t checked the details but I think West Brom had a similar record. Add the wealth Citeh have been able to splash out and it’s not difficult to see history will have little bearing on the outcome of this particular match.
Arsene, in his pre-match press conference, said he expected City to be tight at the back and play on the counter. That seems to be the most obvious observation. Last season Mancini’s side showed no ambition at the Emirates despite the fact that Arsenal were missing some key players and were on a bad run of form, with that game being in the middle of gut-wrenching away defeats to Spuds, Wigan, and Blackburn. Thus far this season the moneybags haven’t really set the stage alight in the home games against United, Chelsea, or Arsenal.
But while they might be boring, City deserve a great deal of respect. Some of us might not like the manner in which the visitors have bought players through financial doping but off-field issues should not be mixed up with performances on the pitch. Mancini has put together a physically and technically strong unit that is hard to beat. While some overpaid players might lack the team spirit and mentality needed for consistent performances at this level, we cannot ignore the 10 clean sheets or an away record that is almost as good as Arsenal’s.
Nothing less than a brilliant display will secure three points in this game. In fact, it could be so tight that just an odd mistake in an otherwise fighting display could see either side lose.
Tactically, Arsenal will have to reproduce the balance that we saw against Chelsea and Birmingham. The front six will have to help out the defence while constantly looking for opportunities to open the opposition up. They can’t afford to miss as many chances at they did at St. Andrews.
With Silva and Balotelli like to miss the game through injury, I expect Adam Johnson to get a game on the left. Clichy will need some support from Wilshere in order to thwart the threat posed by the England international. Johnson is excellent when cutting inside and the left-sided midfielder will have to be alert to that all through the game.
I’m not that worried about the threats down the middle or on the right (City’s left) but Yaya Toure could be a real danger if he is allowed to run with the ball, especially in counter attacking situations. The two deep lying midfielders will have to be positionally (positionally is not an actual word? It should be!) perfect to avoid this.
Given the physical strength of most City players, set-pieces will undoubtedly be the biggest source of worry for Arsenal. One way of dealing with this is to avoid conceding free-kicks, especially ones just inside the Arsenal half as we’ve conceded from that angle with alarming regularity.
There isn’t any obvious weakness in the visitors’ defence that is backed by a fantastic goalkeeper. Moreover, with three defensive minded midfielders in front of them and with wide players having the discipline and stamina to put in a shift up and down the flank, scoring against City will be a real challenge. That said, I feel Arsenal should have enough to break City down if Cesc and Nasri get on the ball often enough. Fabregas will have to play another captain’s innings so to speak.
I’ll also fancy Walcott’s pace against whoever City choose at Left Back (Zabaleta, Kolarov, Bridge?). On the right, Nasri might get some change out of Boateng or Richards but it will be a real battle. I feel the Frenchman will be more effective when he gets to drift in.
All of that will of course depend on the starting line-up that Arsene picks. To be honest I don’t see the need for any changes to the team that won at Birmingham. But in all honesty, I’ll be surprised if Arsene picks the same eleven.
Fabianski – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.
Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, Chamakh, Nasri.
I’m not sure Arsene will play RvP and Djourou in consecutive games within a few days. I hope he will and I hope the players come through unscathed. We will just have to wait and see.
Once again, this game could be down to the first goal. If City get ahead it will be extremely difficult for Arsenal to get anything from this game. In contrast, if the Gunners take an early lead, this could turn into an open and exciting encounter.
I’d prefer a cautious start with the midfield staying close to the defence and the defenders playing deeper rather than a high line. But there is a real possibility that the visitors will drop deep and invite pressure. I think for Arsenal it’ll be important to maintain their defensive shape in such a case. If it’s 0-0 with 10 minutes to go I’ll fancy Arsenal over City. The Gunners must not commit suicide in search for glory. A draw won’t be a bad result even though a win is eminently achievable.