We should have higher expectations every week… I don’t think it’s clever to be excited by fourth, fifth, sixth or whatever. This is not now, we still have to play many games… Lots of stuff will happen that is surprising so we have to make sure that we are on the good side and actually surprise people with our results.
While Robin van Persie has been sensational the with his performances on the pitch, I have also been mightily impressed with a lot of sense that he has spoken. The words above capture Arsenal’s current state beautifully and succinctly.
The side is on a very strong positive run. There is good reason to expect more and more as confidence returns to the players and fans alike. But there is also no need to set targets just yet. The league has seen plenty of surprises and it’s up to the Gunners to show they can repeat the magic we saw at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
City have not scored against Arsenal in the League since ‘that’ game where Adebayor once again endeared himself to the Gooner faithful all over again! Interestingly, Mancini’s side haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 8 games. A continuation of these two trends can see Arsenal return from Manchester with a result that would have the exact opposite psychological impact from their recent forgettable visit.
It won’t be easy though. As was discussed in this article, City have improved considerably over last season and have moved the ball as well as Arsenal do. This can turn into an immense possession battle between two sides that have exceptional pace, movement, and finishing in the attacking areas.
It will be interesting to see the way City approach this game. They have been very aggressive with their pressing in many games and often get good value as we saw in their last game against Chelsea. In that game the Blues struggled when they were trying to push forward against the visitors’ pressing but regained control of the game once they sat back in an organized manner. After the early opportunities, Mancini’s side clearly ran out of ideas even when they were allowed to sustain possession. I’d like to see Arsenal take a cautious approach at the start but my experience watching Wenger teams in recent years suggests that the Gunners will try to impose their style right from the off.
In that case, it will be vital to avoid conceding many chances on the counter attack. City have the players who can punish a team even from half-chances. The central defenders will have a massive test and cannot afford to make mistakes in positioning or reading the game.
If Mancini goes with Aguero and Balotelli or Dzeko, Arsenal could benefit from having an extra man in midfield. It’s something the Gunners will have to capitalize on. Furthermore, Yaya Toure is not the best at tracking players – just watch his casual attempt at tracking Meireles for Chelsea’s first goal – so Ramsey could be a key player for Arsenal in attack. Even Arteta could find some spaces in the central areas just outside the City box.
Gervinho will have a tough physical battle with Richards on the left. The Ivorian has been brushed off the ball rather easily in the penalty box thus far and will have to show some strength if he has to make an impact. He will also have a bigger defensive role to play if the Gunners don’t dominate the ball.
On the right Walcott will be a real threat as Clichy and Kolarov are both injured. Zabaleta is a good player but one that Theo can beat if he finds some space. It will be interesting to see the kind of support Mancini provides to his full-back by his choice of the wide player. I won’t be surprised if Milner is given that flank but it could also be Nasri.
Arsenal will again have two central defenders in full-back positions. It should not be that big a problem as long as they are disciplined and get the basics right. Djourou should stay deeper for most of the game but Vermaelen can be a threat in advanced areas. In the last game it took him a while to realize there were opportunities for making runs but specifically concentrated work in training all week should be helpful.
Patience is an essential virtue in such a game. City will not be as open at the back as Chelsea were. Making a comeback after conceding a goal will not be easy. Moreover, Mancini’s side have clearly demonstrated they can be lethal when opponents are chasing a game. I’d like to see the kind of measured performances we saw in the Champions League. Arsenal have enough talent to find a goal from somewhere as the game goes on. So for the Gunners, it’s about retaining the right shape and probing without exposing their own goal.
On the other hand, as discussed in the previous article, the Gunners have a lot more resolve and defensive desire so a lead can be protected, dare I say, despite Phil Dowd.
If both sides play as well as they are capable of, this could be a game with few chances as they’ll cancel each other out. The ability to produce a moment like Van Persie did against Everton or an absolute blunder at the back might just decide this game. It’s not hard to imagine either from this Arsenal side. Individual mistakes, indecision, or shirking of responsibility can be fatal.
Defensively, the Song V Silva battle will also be massive. But the Spaniard will move all over the attacking areas so Song alone won’t be able to control him. It will have to be a team effort demanding impeccable understanding and unwavering focus at the back.
Probable starting line-up,
Szczesny – Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
All-in-all this has all the makings of a tantalising encounter that can be more cagey than it is cavalier. Based on the wisdom of the pundits, and perhaps even the bookies, Arsenal should have very little chance in this one. So a defeat will not be a disaster by any stretch but the Gunners have a real chance of showing just how far they’ve come as a unit.