The March Madness approaches its end and it has been a really turbulent month for the Gunners. A defeat against Stoke, a convincing victory against Everton that turned the Gunners into top favourites to win the FA Cup, an honourable CL-exit at Allianz Arena shaded by Özil’s injury, a somewhat fortunate victory in the North London Derby that completed our treble over the Spuds, a disaster at Stamford Bridge and an unfortunate home draw against Swansea…and we still have a game against Manchester City at home.
And, it’s hard to say if there was a worse time to play against such a team that even Arsene Wenger has called unstoppable. We have an injury crisis that hit virtually half of our first team – Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott were all starters in the reverse fixture and even with them in our line-up we suffered a heavy 6:3 defeat. Manchester City are the in-form team again and the league is theirs to lose. They haven’t conceded in the last five league games and they’ve won their last four with a 11:0 goal-difference in the process.
Yaya Toure has been in a red-hot form lately – he has scored five goals during their streak of victories – but it should be said that he shouldn’t have been on the pitch in the first place. Why? Firstly, he made a dangerous tackle on Giroud in the reverse fixture – that should have been a straight red card and a three-match-suspension. Then, his elbowing of an opponent in the match against Norwich was reviewed by a panel of former referees but Yaya escaped punishment again.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny his tremendous attacking contribution this season. The Ivorian has scored seventeen goals in the Premiership this season including four free-kicks so every defence has to be careful with fouls. His attacking game has benefited a lot from the presence of Fernandinho. The Brazilian has formed a great partnership with the Ivorian who has been known for years as a player that doesn’t like the defensive part of the game. For instance, Croatian midfielder Jerko Leko, a former team-mate of Toure’s, once said: “That dude just went forward, he didn’t give a damn for tracking back or defending!” Fernandinho has taken that part of the game on himself and it was his absence that was heavily noticed when Manchester City lost at home to Chelsea. It’s not that the Brazilian can’t score as well – after all, he has scored half of his goals in the Premiership against us in the reverse fixture – but his main duty is to break up opponents’ attacks and cover for Toure when he goes forward.
It’s not a surprise that I started with Manchester City players that play in the midfield given that our casualties have been the biggest. Flamini and Arteta – provided that Wenger opts for two of them again and not for, say, Kallstrom or Rosicky- will have a hell of a task to deal with the Manchester City midfielders, even if David Silva doesn’t recover in time from his ankle injury. They are energetic, full of strength, power and technique and our central defenders and our No.10 might help a bit more than usual. Samir Nasri is a well-known foe and he will play with a special motive against us given that our fans didn’t forget his departure that earned him the nickname of “Na$ri”. He is a brilliant dribbler, technique and ability to score in big games.
Edin Džeko will probably lead the attack for the Citizens. The Bosnian striker had a poor streak of games before he found the net against Hull City. He added two more in the mid-week derby against Manchester United so his confidence must be on the highest possible level. Let’s not forget that he scored in the same fixture last year and earned a penalty (that he missed) and an early red card from Laurent Koscielny. Sergio Agüero is out for this match though and that’s good news for us as the Argentinian is arguably the best striker in the Premiership when he is fit. Alvaro Negredo hasn’t been in form like he had been before the reverse fixture took place but his mobility, shooting technique and passing range make him even more dangerous than Džeko.
If there is a chance for City’s rivals, it’s their defence. Vincent Kompany is one of the best central defenders in the world but his partners don’t come close. The Belgian has been paired with Martin Demichelis and Joleon Lescott in the absence of Matija Nastasić. Neither of them have been a reliable partner and that was the main reason why Barcelona didn’t have a problem to do the double over the Citizens. Kompany is very dangerous from corners and Demichelis made some problems for us on by making successful attacks on our near post in the reverse fixture (first of those ended with Agüero’s opener). Right full-back Zabaleta can create a lot of problems as well – he was a real handful for Nacho Monreal at Etihad and created Negredo’s goal. On the opposite flank Manuel Pellegrini can pick between Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov. Truth be told, neither of them is Paolo Maldini. Kolarov can be dangerous from free-kicks though.
City have the best English goalkeeper which hasn’t been the biggest compliment for a long time. Joe Hart isn’t immune to mistakes though and perhaps our players can exploit them. It would be nice to see Kallstrom’s free-kick deflected by Hart into his own net, wouldn’t it?
The main problem is, which players we pick for tomorrow’s match and expect some result? Our attacks against Swansea were slower than a snail with a serious form of arthritis. Our defence has looked very nervous without Koscielny and our full-backs (especially the one that will play on Zabaleta’s side – Gibbs) have stood too high up the pitch. That sort of display has made us very vulnerable to counter-attacks and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pellegrini starts with Jesus Navas tomorrow in order to exploit our left flank. Our wingers must provide more protection for our full-backs and/or apply more pressure on the opponents’ full-backs. I’d prefer Rosicky over Cazorla behind the striker but whether Rosicky can play three games in the space of seven days is a legitimate question.
Also, Wojciech Szczesny has to give the best possible performance. Ever since he had been sent off against Bayern he has looked unreliable. If Arsene Wenger doesn’t believe Szczesny can do it, he should give a chance to Lukasz Fabianski who gave a brilliant performance in our away victory at Etihad in 2010.
Our success will depend on Olivier Giroud’s performance too. If anything, he has scored once against Manchester City – in a preseason friendly though – and should have forgotten about the reverse fixture in which he missed three chances in the space of five minutes. The Frenchman has been much more effective at home so here is another opportunity for him to show that he is more than a flat-track bully.
We haven’t beaten either of Manchester clubs or Chavs since 8th April 2012. We gave a perfect performance on that Sunday afternoon. We dominated from the first minute to the last and should have won with a much bigger margin. A late long-range effort from Mikel Arteta sealed our victory and almost took away the title from the Citizens’ grasp. That was one of the rare victories we have achieved over Manchester City since they’ve been the biggest oil stain on the map of the Premiership. Since that happened, we have lost players (Kolo Toure, Adebayor, Clichy, Nasri…perhaps the same will happen with Sagna), matches (City have won four out of six in all competitions including two out of three matches at Emirates) and even club legends (Patrick Vieira is the head of their development department). They have won one trophy this season (Capital One Cup) and will do their best to do the double. If they win their games in hand, the title will be theirs to lose even if they lose to Liverpool at Anfield.
All-in-all, it’s difficult to find reasons for optimism ahead of today’s match. We are underdogs (which might be a good thing) and even a draw against City wouldn’t be a disaster, especially if Everton fail to beat Fulham. The momentum is on City’s side as well as individual quality. We can rely on the fact that we haven’t lost at home in Premiership since the opening day of the season but Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and Bayern respectively have beaten us in other competitions since then. There is also the fact that neither Rosicky nor Oxlade-Chamberlain played in the reverse fixture and they have been our most important players for the month.
Arsenal: Koscielny (calf), Walcott (knee), Ramsey (thigh), Ozil (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Ryo (hamstring), Diaby (knee), Monreal (knee)
Manchester City: Agüero (hamstring), Silva (doubt – ankle)
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 14 Dec 2013 Manchester City FC 6 – Arsenal FC 3
Capital One Cup (CCUP) 13 Jan 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Manchester City FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 23 Sep 2013 Manchester City FC 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 8 Apr 2012 Arsenal FC 1 – Manchester City 0
Premier League (EPL) 29 Nov 2011 Manchester City 1 – Arsenal 0
25 Mar 2014 Arsenal 2 – Swansea City 2 EPL
22 Mar 2014 Chelsea 6 – Arsenal FC 0 EPL
16 Mar 2014 Tottenham Hotspur 0 – Arsenal FC 1 EPL
11 Mar 2014 FC Bayern 1 – Arsenal 1 UCL
8 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1 FA Cup
25 Mar 2014 Manchester United 0 – Manchester City FC 3
22 Mar 2014 Manchester City FC 5 – Fulham 0
15 Mar 2014 Hull City 0 – Manchester City FC 2
12 Mar 2014 Barcelona 2 – Manchester City FC 1
9 Mar 2014 Manchester City FC 1 – Wigan 2
Sagna Merts Verm Gibbs
The Ox Cazorla
Arsenal- Manchester City 0-2