Manchester City Preview: Change Recent History And Win
With Chelsea eventually overcoming Wolves, this afternoon’s visit to Eastlands takes on more importance for both sides, if that were possible. Whilst a point would not be a bad result for Arsenal, City must win these encounters being the hosts. That, I suspect, is going to be how the season pans out with the top four matches, win at home and try to come away with the odd point or maybe a win.
Both sides go into the match on the back of comfortable midweek European wins. City has lost once in the Premier League this season – at Sunderland in August – and sit in second place, favourites this afternoon. That, combined with Arsenal’s wretched results in clashes with the rest of the top four in recent seasons, has created the expectation of a home win.
Theo Walcott noted that ‘underdog’ is a tag that Arsenal is not unhappy having,
That’s a good thing for us [if they go into the game as favourites]. We can go up there and express ourselves and try and get that result.
I think we could catch them on the counter-attack. I think it’s going to be a sort of slow game at times. I think with the pace we’ve got in our team we can catch them on the break. Only time will tell [whether we will get caught on the break ourselves].
It will require all of the guile that the midfield possess to break down the hosts defence. The expectation is that Mancini will nominate three defensive midfielders to counteract Arsenal; De Jong, Toure and Barry. Even so, Blackpool proved that numbers do not necessarily provide a defensive barrier, unlucky to have lost the game with ‘goals’ unjustly ruled out when considered in light of events that took place elsewhere last and this weekend.
Much will depend on Cesc prompting in the absence of Jack Wilshere. It is a fixture where the close dribbling skills and lively movement of the youngster would have thrived. Space will be at a premium and creating width will be a key for Arsenal. For once, there will be someone who is consistent in the air to provide an alternative threat to the myriad of passes through defences.
Marouane Chamakh has nothing to be concerned about aerially for Kolo Toure – if he is fit – whilst Lescott and Kompany are not tremendous despite their height. Equally he has pace and movement to stretch the City defence with Nasri and Arshavin providing support in the middle, moving in from the flanks. Had Theo Walcott been fitter, I would have expected him to start to stretch City down the right and put Wayne Bridge under a lot of pressure with his pace. Having missed out in midweek, a starting place for Walcott seems unlikely.
Much though will depend on Abou Diaby as the main support from midfield for the Moroccan. Charlie Adam of Blackpool proved the susceptibility to City’s numeric advantage to late runs into the box and an in-form Diaby is equally, if not more, capable of providing such a threat. The Frenchman has an eye for goal but needs to be on the top of his game to force the hosts onto the backfoot.
Defensively, the return of Bacary Sagna bolsters the defence. He and Gael Clichy will need to be wary of the pace of Silva and Johnson. Whilst the Englishman has a touch of the ‘one-trick pony’, he can play on either flank and the Spaniard is devastating if allowed pace to cut inside. Both full backs need to be aware positionalluy. Likewise, Squillaci and Djourou are going to be occupied with Tevez who is City’s in-form striker. It seems unlikely that Emmanuel Adebayor will start, unsurprisingly his ego has created problems for Mancini in these circumstances.
It is a crucial afternoon for Arsenal. Avoiding defeat is the minimum target, a win would leave the gap to Chelsea at five points and second place occupied. Goals away from home have been at a premium domestically, four in four games unusually low by the club’s standards in recent seasons. Yet one might be enough to secure the points this afternoon. And the bench will have guile and pace in abundance to provide alternatives in what I expect to be a tight match. The starting line-up will show few changes to recent weeks:
Fabianski; Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri
Rosicky or Denilson could provide an alternative to Diaby but I do not think that will be the case and Wenger’s comments about Arshavin in the week suggest that he has no intention of diminishing his goal threat by resting the Russian this weekend. Those who do not start today would almost certainly be in the Carling Cup starting line-up at Newcastle next week.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.