Manchester City Preview: Ever Get The Feeling You’ve Been Etihad
Arsenal travel to Eastlands for a top of the table clash with Manchester City, a team which is now going to reveal its character to the footballing world. Having maintained their record of failing to progress beyond the first round of the Champions Cup / League, City suffered defeat in the Premier League against Chelsea. Certain members of the squad had been espousing their ability to remain undefeated, the footballing gods decided to knock their confidence. Training ground spats do little to improve the appearance of a club at the beginning of a downward spiral.
Which is all that it is; an illusion. A team of talented individuals does not become bad overnight, despite what the media may inform us. This is as tough a match as Arsenal will have all season. Pointing to last season’s demolition ignores crucial facts; City had ten men and it was one a day when everything fell into place for Arsenal.
Three months ago, Arsenal were on the road to oblivion following the drubbing at Old Trafford. A flurry of activity and a squad showing its character has hauled them back into the fight for a Champions League spot, sooner than their manager had expected. This match is an indicator of how far down the road they have travelled, no more. If nothing else, this season has shown how readily the top six are going to take points from each other with freak results along the way. Not irrelevant, these results will not define the title’s destination although they can divert it from its course.
City remind me of George Graham’s 1991 team. They are not as defensively sound but similar in their outlook. Mancini, perhaps more consistently than any other Premier League manager, believes in strangling the life from the game before allow his talented players to open up the opposition. Stereotypically Italian, historically Arsenal. Previous Arsenal teams have struggled in such situations, too readily passing into nowhere. This one has a difference, more of a directness. We are still profligate in front of goal but for all of their failings in that department, Walcott and Gervinho are more than making up for it with the attacking play and runs that are creating space for van Persie to take his chances.
The Dutchman will be pivotal today. Aiming for Alan Shearer’s record for goals scored in a calendar year, the Premier League’s rampant forward is proving his worth to Arsenal. Fears that Barcelona will come knocking following David Villa’s injury might be borne from our own insecurities from previous history but also recognise the contributions that a fit van Persie can make. It underlines how much he has been missed in the past and how much of a contribution he is making this season.
It is too easy to label Arsenal a one-man team, too lazy as well. That is a charge that can be levelled at all of the top teams; United are a shadow without an in-form Rooney, Real similarly so without Ronaldo whilst do not even get me started on the Catalan dependency upon Messi. Quite simply, each team has a key player without whom, they are less effective. For City, it is David Silva who is key. Balotelli has the glimpses of genius, Toure the power but Silva has the consistency of performance with the impish skills, a genuine inventiveness about his play that makes him the rarest of players; a joy to watch along with an envy that he is not at Arsenal, more so than Mata in my opinion.
Defensively, Silva and Adam Johnson may fancy a run against centre backs playing as full backs. Whilst Djourou may be seen as the weaker link of the two, he has a tenacity in his tackle that might provide a surprise to the wider players of City. As for Vermaelen, his stature is such in the English game that he will be recognised as a formidable opponent by Mancini’s men. A duel between he and Silva would be an interesting act inside the wider context of the game.
This preview is written early on Friday morning as I’m in Wiltshire for a family wedding so is ahead of Arsène’s press conference. Unless there has been a miraculous recovery or a desperate training ground injury, I would expect the same line-up as last weekend’s win over Everton. There was a durability in that performance which hints at the strength of mind, a willingness to pursue to the bitter end a cause for victory.
As for the Champions League draw, there are no teams to be feared. The matches bookend the FA Cup 5th Round and trip to Anfield. A trip to Russia ahead of the FA Cup might be physically demanding but with the possibility of a free weekend should Arsenal not progress that far in the domestic cup. The second leg will be unaffected by Liverpool, being at The Emirates. The only team Arsenal might not want is CSKA with the match presumably played on the artificial surface in the Luzhniki Stadium rather than on grass, as Uefa insisted on for the Champions League final three years ago. That said, for a passing team such as Arsenal it might be a chance to show their technique on a relatively true pitch. It might even bring about our first win in that country.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.