Manchester City v Arsenal
Kick off: January 18th, 2014 16.00 PM BST
Manchester City and Arsenal face each other on Sunday in what is supposed to be the our biggest match in January. We are still outside the top four but this game might represent a solid chance to apply more pressure on Southampton and Manchester United respectively.
Even if there is an eleven-point-gap between the sides and the reigning champions haven’t lost a match in the league since the defeat against West Ham in Week 9, it seems that if Arsenal want to break a win-less streak against The Citizens in the league, now is the right time to do so.
Manchester City will enter the clash without Yaya Toure and their newest signing Wilfried Bony. Both players are with Ivory Coast at the ACN tournament so they won’t play on Sunday. Their midfield suffered another blow as $amir Na$ri won’t be available for the match either due to injury. Edin Džeko has been out for a while but will return to the team as well as Sergio Agüero, their best player and one of the best in the league.
The Argentinian will be their largest threat. He has everything to be considered as one of the best players in the world – pace, technique, shooting, finishing – and our defenders will have to look after him even when he leaves to the locker room. (OK, that didn’t sound weird and awkward at all…)
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One might notice that both teams have a lot of in common.
Both have a No. 1 which quality has been disputed over and over again with a South-American goalkeeper waiting for a chance to take over their starting place. Neither Joe Hart nor Wojciech Szczesny could write home about their performances this season while Willy Caballero and David Ospina are more than decent options from the bench.
It’s very likely that neither of the French international right full-backs will feature on Sunday. Mathieu Debuchy is out for three months while our former player Bacary Sagna will probably sit on the bench watching Pablo Zabaleta playing in his place and wondering why did he opted for City’s money instead of Arsenal’s first eleven.
The best defender in our line-up is Laurent Ko-sciel-ny while the best City defender is Vincent Ko-mpa-ny. Both of them are strong in the air and have good technique on the ground. Both of them are indispensable for their respective teams and the absence of either of them doesn’t go unnoticed and unpunished by our respective opponents.
Even with quality defenders like Kompany and Koscielny, both teams have had a lot of trouble keeping clean sheets this term. Lately, City have conceded two goals at home against Burnley and Sunderland respectively while Arsenal have kept clean sheets away from home just twice this term (Aston Villa 3:0, West Brom 1:0).
Due to injuries of players like Agüero, Džeko, Ramsey and Özil, both teams have relied on their Spanish wizards since December. David Silva has scored four and created two goals since 20th December while his compatriot Santi Cazorla has been one of the best Arsenal players in the last month-and-a-half.
And let’s not forget the veterans. Tomas Rosicky and Frank Lampard’s combined age might be 70 but both of them are capable of striking decisive blows to their opponents. The Czech maestro has rarely featured this term but his goal against QPR while we were down to ten men and a lovely one-two with Alexis showed what we had missed for almost half of the season. The Englishman, on the other hand, has been part of a scandal involving Manchester City and their sister-club from United States but aside from that he has scored some crucial goals for City. One of those came against his former club Chelsea in very difficult circumstances – Chelsea were leading 1:0 and City were down to ten men after Zabaleta’s second yellow card. Lampard’s goal kept City above the water and probably in the title race.
Here’s a question: for which tall striker scoring a goal won’t be a tall order? (Yes, it does sound like something Anne Robinson would have said on a bad day) both Edin Džeko and Olivier Giroud have spent more time than usual on the sidelines due to injury. Both are strong strikers, capable of scoring a header or from a powerful strike. The Bosnian striker makes better use of his weaker foot and a slightly better technique than our Frenchman but Giroud has superior link-up play and better utilizes his height in front of the goal than Džeko.
The Bosnian has scored a lot of important goals for City, especially in big matches but Giroud seems to be on the same track this term as he has already scored against City (a wonderful shot in Community Shield), Everton, Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.
Of course, the whole story isn’t complete without at least making the slightest of comparisons between two world-class players, the two A(ce)s. Agüero or Alexis – who is going to win the game for their team? Both scored in the reverse fixture in September, both are pacey, strong with the ball, can create a goal out of nothing and their team-mates can always expect a lot of open space due to the close attention they require.
It’s always possible that a game like this gets an unlikely hero. For instance, if there is a player in the opponents’ ranks that I have a bad feeling about, it’s James Milner. He has shown more than once that he is capable of giving a performance that is much better than one would assume based on Milner’s rating and reputation. In our defeat in 2013 at the Emirates, Milner scored the opener. He also gave a top-drawer performance in a victory over Bayern München last term when the Germans were two goals up. It might come as a surprise that I mention those two games but neither Yaya Toure nor Agüero played.
Let’s not forget the middle of the pitch. Fernandinho scored twice against us last term and was one of the most important players for the Citizens in their title win.
And, the referee. Our 6:3 defeat from this fixture last season had a lot to do with the referee as Martin Atkinson gave one of the worst performances ever. It was like Anthony Taylor from the notorious season opener against Villa in August 2013 made a time-machine, went to 2004 with it, hooked up with Mike Riley after he had beaten The Invincibles at Old Trafford, went with him to June 1970 and then spawned a child that was born in March 1971 under the name Martin Atkinson. The referee appointed for this game is also notorious for his poor performances in our matches – Mike Dean which makes James Milner the second most dangerous Englishman for our hopes on Sunday.
Our line-up for the game is not an easy one to guess. This game will be a lot different than the one against Stoke.
David Ospina will probably get the nod again. He hasn’t conceded against either Hull or Stoke so he should be full of confidence before facing Manchester City.
Debuchy’s absence on the right side of the defence is the tactical moment that worries me the most. Hector Bellerin is a very talented lad but he is just 19. Calum Chambers is our other option for that place but he is just two months older than Bellerin. Now, given that Silva likes to explore space on the left as well as Agüero, our right side of the defence will need all the help from our right winger. The question is, who can provide enough work-rate and put a shift in defence as well to help our full-back? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? Theo Walcott? Alexis Sánchez? Tomas Rosicky? Joel Campbell? Or, perhaps, Wenger might try to repeat a concept with Aaron Ramsey on the right wing – just like he did in 2012 when we should have beaten the Citizens (who had been the reigning champions back then as well).
Kieran Gibbs has had a problem with his ankle so Nacho Monreal might get another start. The Spaniard had a shocker in this fixture last term but this time he’ll have (well, probably) Alexis on his side of the pitch to put Zabaleta on the back foot.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will start in the middle of the defence. Koscielny was sent off in the aforementioned match in 2013 after making a professional foul on Džeko. The referee in charge was…Mike Dean. Hopefully the Frenchman won’t allow the demons from that game to haunt him on Sunday.
Francis Coquelin’s name has been on everybody’s lips and fingers lately as the young Frenchman has put a string of fine performances since his return from Charlton. He is prone to dangerous tackles though and will have to be especially careful as Dean won’t think twice before giving him the marching orders. His partner is probably going to be Tomas Rosicky. The Czech has a battling spirit and the fact he gave a MOTM performance against the same opponents in the spring should be taken into account. With Aaron Ramsey on the bench we have a strong option for the latter stage of the match.
The right-wing problem… Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has lacked final product but he has done very well lately. Theo Walcott hasn’t found his shooting boots since his return and should start from the bench.
Santi Cazorla’s performances make him a strong favourite for the No. 10 position. His creativity should produce plenty of chances for our attackers. He scored against the Citizens in Community Shield. We have another strong option here as Mesut Özil’s cameo against Stoke looked promising. The German didn’t have the best of games in December 2013 at the Etihad but then again, only a few of our players did.
Alexis has been the best player in the league for a while and he is going to be our biggest hope to get a point or three from Manchester. He will have a significant role in our defending as well.
Olivier Giroud’s position in our first eleven has suddenly become rock-solid. The thing is it happened because we have sent two strikers on loan (Podolski to Inter and Sanogo to Crystal Palace respectively) in this transfer window while Danny Welbeck is injured. The Frenchman is yet to score a league goal against City but there is no reason why he shouldn’t break that tradition on Sunday.
We haven’t won a game at the Etihad since 2010-11 when Dedryck Boyata’s early send off set the tone of the game. Still, given that the hosts have a lot of defensive issues just like we’ve had, we might see a lot of goals in this one. I’d go with a lovely 3:2 victory – Alexis to score an early goal, Cazorla to double our lead, Agüero to make things more interesting for the neutrals, Ramsey to put the game to bed before Lampard scores a consolation goal for the hosts.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 13th September 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Manchester City 2
Community Shield (CS) 10th August 2014 Arsenal FC 3 – Manchester City 0
Premier League (EPL) 29th March 2014 Arsenal FC 1 – Manchester City 1
Premier League (EPL) 14 Dec 2013 Manchester City 6 – Arsenal FC 3
Club Friendlies (FRC) 10 Aug 2013 Arsenal FC 3 – Manchester City 1
Bellerin Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Monreal
Chamberlain Cazorla Alexis
Manchester City 2 v 3 Arsenal