A Must Win – by Josif
Last January was a horrible month in the Premiership, we lost all three games, mostly due to the fact we had a patchy team in every match (Fulham, Swansea, FAnchester United). The match against the reigning champions had an especially disappointing outcome given that we all expected revenge for the 8-2 thrashing we suffered in the earlier fixture. Still, we managed to get a grip and produced a string of wonderful displays and results in the later months including the memorable victory over Manchester City thanks to the late long shot from Mikel Arteta – the most impressive performance that season. Some might argue given that in that period we also produced the brilliant 5-2 victory over the Spuds after being two goals down, the performance against the Citizens was more mature and more solid than any other. We had a lot of chances, dominated throughout the whole match by restricting the opponents’ chances despite the referee failing to sent off Balotelli earlier for the horrible challenges on Song and Sagna.
So just like last season, we are playing a home match against the reigning champions in January. We had played just one match in the Premiership in 2013 so this will be our chance to get our first victory. Although we are playing against the past champions, tomorrows match is a must-win and not just because we are trailing both The Spuds and the Chavs. One might argue a draw is sufficient but the Citizens are coming to the Emirates without two members of their spine – Yaya Toure is absent due to his international obligations with Ivory Coast while Sergio Aguero is on sidelines due to injury. The visitors will also be without their former Arsenal player Samir Nasri as well. The player absences should give us an edge in tomorrows clash since Yaya Toure was the driving force that led City to their first league title in 44 years, while Sergio Aguero has been nothing short of brilliant in his 18-month-spell in England.
In the reverse fixture this season we managed to stay undefeated at the Etihad. It was an excellent performance by our team despite losing our captain Vermaelen to the flu before the match with individual mistakes the difference that prevented us from taking all three points. We conceded first while we were approaching the end of the first half after poor reactions from Vito Mannone following a corner. We didn’t give up and were rewarded with an equalizer from Laurent Koscielny after our corner. Only a minute later, Koscielny nearly gave away a victory to the Citizens but Aguero thankfully missed a sitter. In the last moments of injury time Gervinho had cut inside but produced a horrible miss from 18 yards despite being unmarked.
That match was some sort of false dawn for our hopes, one might say even a curse in disguise – it was the last match Abou Diaby played without getting injured in the process and the only match that Aaron Ramsey performed well on the wing. That performance was the main reason we believed this team was capable of making that final step to silverware and perhaps even a title challenge. Nobody would guess that would be the only point we would get from our matches with the Manchester clubs and the Chavs in the first half of the season.
It would be very hard to compare the first fixture with tomorrows match. City will be without two very important players, their goalscorer from the first match Joleon Lescott is highly unlikely to start tomorrow with Kompany and Nastasić expected to take their places in central defense. Their attack will probably be spearheaded by Džeko although there is always the possibility that Mancini opt for Balotelli as the only thing that matches the instability of the Italian forward is his talent. Given that Yaya Toure is away on international duty, Mancini’s midfield will rely heavily on the attacking talent of David Silva. The Spaniard scored the only goal last time City won against us in the Premiership.
Our team will be much different than it was in the first match. Gervinho – who was actually very good overall in except for his horrible finishing – is away with Yaya Toure while our central defense should consist of Mertesacker and Vermaelen. The former will have a tough time with Džeko in the air as well as on the ground. Just like his score-sheet-mate from the first match, Laurent Koscielny is most likely to start on the bench given the partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen is yet to produce a clean sheet. Sczszesny will be between our sticks and he will have a lot of work to do in terms of set-pieces. We won’t have Diaby’s physical presence tomorrow since he is still short of match fitness but we’ll have Wilshere’s energy instead. There is a possible danger of Ramsey’s presence on the wing since Wenger is pretty stubborn with the idea and he got it in his head during the first match between the two sides. It is still unclear whether Giroud will be able to play tomorrow but Wenger will probably opt with the team that has been unbeaten for five matches in the Premiership.
Walcott will have to produce a real performance against City since we need his contribution in every big victory we make (Barcelona, two times against the Chavs, two times against the Spuds) recently. Walcott has been our lucky omen so far with the match against Swansea being the only period of time with Walcott on the field that we have lost so far – he entered the pitch against the Chavs at 2-1 for them (ended with that result), against United at 1-0 for them (ended 2-1), he was absent due to injury against Norwich and Schalke while he wasn’t selected for matches against Olympiacos in the Champions’ League and Bradford in the League Cup.
Why we must win tomorrow? Our opponents are without their best midfielder and best attacker, however they are still a strong team and we are yet to beat any title contenders this season. Our next match after City is against the Chavs so we need an injection of self-confidence before that. Last season we won both forthcoming fixtures – City at home and the Chavs away. We need a victory in order to reduce the gap from the Top 4 and to send a statement to our rivals, our current players (especially the one that hasn’t signed ‘da ting’ yet), our former players and to our future players that we are still the mighty Arsenal.