Manchester City have not won away to Arsenal since October 1975, scoring just 9 times in 26 subsequent visits. But that will count for nothing when the game kicks off this Sunday. Arsenal have failed to score in 5 of their last 6 meetings with City in all competitions. That is a more relevant stat as it reflects the quality, especially defensive, that the visitors have bought in recent years. But even that could mean little in a game that is vital to both clubs’ aspirations.
Both teams are in the same situation – a draw is not good enough.
… a draw is not that good for either of us.
And I am sure most fans on both sides would agree.
Interestingly, Arsene did say this game is more of a must-win for City and a want-win for Arsenal.
I say on our side it is a ‘want-win’ game more than a must-win game… Man City are in a situation where they will have to win.
To an extent it is true. If City don’t win, it pretty much puts paid to their title hopes. The Gunners on the other hand will not be out of the race for the top 4 even if they don’t take all three points from this fixture.
But Le Boss knows winning is important. There is a four-way fight for the final two Champions League spots. Arsenal need all the points they can get.
We love victory and we want to win. On the table side of course you want these three points.
Such a situation sets up a very interesting tactical battle. The Manchester Blues have, in recent years, come to the Emirates with the intention of parking the bus and consequently, the last two league results have been drab, scoreless draws.
How will Mancini approach this game? Will he go on the offensive and take initiative in search of a win?
In the previous two visits Mancini has started the game with 3 defensive-minded midfielders. His choices this time around will dictate the patterns of play because Arsenal will definitely try to go on the offensive irrespective of their tactics.
Their need for a win would suggest a more attacking approach will be needed. The Italian could have Silva in the middle with Nasri on one flank and two strikers sharing the other wide position and central role. Aguero is likely to start so he could be supported by Balotelli or Dzeko, or even Tevez.
If I were Mancini though, I’d take a more conservative approach. Instead of engaging Arsenal in a scoring battle, it would be better to ensure my team doesn’t concede. That’s half the battle won. After that I’d want my attackers to test the Arsenal defence with all the wide spaces to exploit. The likes of Aguero and Tevez can really be a handful for Vermaelen and Koscielny if they consistently get a chance to run in behind.
If City can keep a clean sheet till the final 20 minutes or so they will have a very good chance of nicking the three points. Arsene was recently talking about United knowing how to deal with “money time”.
I believe this year the title at Man United, if they make it, is really down to experience. What I mean by that is that on Monday night against Blackburn, when Giggs came on [in the 63rd minute], you thought: ‘They can only win it now because they know how to deal with the money time.’ That means the last 15 minutes in football when it is 0-0, [they] don’t make a mistake. They have that security at the back. They have won so many titles because they are not nervous.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about Arsenal. We have seen plenty of games where the side is in the ascendancy at the start of this “money time” and even creates a few chances but ends up dropping points through the one chance they concede. Arsenal make defensive mistakes. They’re too open and do not have the necessary security at the back. A motivated and clever side can find a way through; especially one with attackers who have the quality to produce something special in individual battles, and in an inventive sense or clinical manner.
Of course, the Gunners have been very strong at home this season. They’ve the fourth best home points tally in the League (Spurs have played an extra home game) at the moment with only 12 goals against, which is actually the second best and less than the number United have conceded. On the other hand City have only won 2 of their last 9 away games. So one cannot fault the fans for feeling confident before this fixture.
In order for that to feeling to be justified at the final whistle the Arsenal midfield will have a vital defensive role to play. The back five will have to avoid the kind of mistakes we saw from Vermaelen in the last game but the role of the three in front of them is of greater significance. Even against QPR the midfield was equally at fault for the two goals. They didn’t move across in a timely and defensively intelligent manner from the throw-in as QPR moved the ball across the back and down the middle. Similarly, they completely lost track of Diakite for the second. Such errors might go unpunished against some of the smaller teams but will inevitably prove fatal against a City side desperately fighting to sustain their title chase. The positioning and decision making of the midfielders will have to be spot on to provide sufficient cover to the defenders.
In attack, Arsene will again have a decision to make on the left side. Recently, a trend seems to have developed in that a direct winger starts at home while a midfielder plays the away games. By that logic either Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain could get the nod, with the youngster likely to be the popular pick. However, Wenger could also pick an additional technical player if he thinks winning the possession battle will be important. It hasn’t worked as well, especially for Ramsey, so there will be resistance from the fans – perhaps even vocal – but in principle, the approach is one that can be respected.
I’d like Arsenal to adapt tactics similar to the ones I’ve recommended for City. Start slow, stay in the game, try to force mistakes but without compromising your own shape, rely on pace and finishing skills of the attackers.
Essentially, the teams have to let a win come to them instead of chasing a result. Some might say that’s exactly the kind of approach that led to the previous two stalemates but I don’t completely agree. In those games City didn’t need a result. In this one they do and that will result in more gaps on the pitch. There will be chances. Whether they will be easy ones gifted to a side by the opponent’s bloopers or tough ones worked out by individual and collective skill remains to be seen. The side which minimizes or eliminates the former is likely to be happier at the fulltime whistle.
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
There could be a point made for selecting Santos ahead of Gibbs or even in an advanced role on the wings. It’s not without merit and Wenger will definitely have to give it some thought. From a distance, and with little knowledge of how players are doing in training, it’s hard to be sure about such choices.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is also a valid option in attack but Gervinho did well in the last home game and tends to do better when he starts rather than as a substitute. AOC might be a better option against tired legs later in the game if it’s still tied.
To be completely honest, I don’t expect a win in this game. The 7-game winning streak came when Arsenal were performing a couple of notches above their level, and with a bit of luck involved. It’s hard to sustain that. While City aren’t in great form they will be hard to break down. Sometimes Arsenal make mistakes when the opponents can frustrate them for a long enough period.
The Gunners have also struggled when opponents have pressed them cohesively and consistently. It will be a tough ask, and a risky tactic as it might involve coming higher up the pitch, but Mancini might as well go for it if he is desperate and believes his players can pull it off.
Finally, with Martin Atkinson as the ref, I won’t be surprised if we see a penalty and/or a sending off in this game. Koscielny could be banned for two games if he picks up a yellow in this one (Haven’t had a chance to verify this). He’ll have a tight rope to walk on but even otherwise all the defenders will have to be very careful in and around the penalty box.
All-in-all the point is not to say that Arsenal can’t win. Just that it will require some luck and an effort above and beyond their usual very high standard.
Before ending I want to share a link to a post on clear-cut chances that I did for EPL Index. It has some very interesting numbers and if you enjoyed my previous stat-based articles you’ll find something of interest in this one too.Follow @goonerdesi