Manchester City Preview: Know Your Points, All Three Of ‘Em
Sorry Joe, couldn’t resist it. Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg is on in the background whilst typing this.
Manchester City arrive at The Emirates for a crucial game for both teams. No matter how they may like to paint it, anything other than a win for the visitors this afternoon and their already dim title hopes will be entirely extinguished. It is too late to make up the points difference despite hosting United at Eastlands at the end of the month. I am sure that they would like to keep the race going beyond that fixture to avoid the humiliation of providing a guard of honour to their more illustrious neighbours.
Arsenal’s need is more focussed. Too many are writing off Chelsea’s Champions League aspirations and even with Messi, Xavi and Uefa against them, it only takes one fluke for them to make the final. Finishing third negates any question of Chelsea’s continued involvement in that tournament. With the noisy neighbours from the extremities telling us continually that the pressure is on Arsenal, a win over a Mancunian team that put five past them on their own ground would be a powerful message to send.
And it would also very quickly expel doubts which resurfaced after the defeat at Loftus Road. It was a lacklustre performance which fully deserved the result that happened. The players and manager have spoken publicly of their desire and confidence that there will be a positive response. It will be hard work this afternoon. In their desire to avoid defeat, a workmanlike City performance can be expected with the midfield more likely to contain the assiduous Milner, Toure and Barry than all of their flamboyant peers. City will look to stifle, strike and stifle; it is not going to be pretty.
For that reason it is hard to see the luckless Aaron Ramsey retain his place on the left. On the comfort of their own pitch, Arsenal do not need to counter the relative narrowness of Loftus Road or Goodison Park. They need their own expansive players to stretch City, to pull their players out of the safety zones they inhabit and to exploit weakneses. Ramsey for all of his talent is not the player to carry out that function. Nor is he deserving of being made a scapegoat. Ramsey was brought into the side for those matches with a specific role to play; we won at Everton – often overlooked – whilst last weekend’s defeat was not purely as a result of his inclusion or of his performance. His was part of the collective failure; the desire to find a scapegoat for last weekend underlines how shallow the waters of Premier League football have become, off and on the pitch.
Patience is going to be a virtue that the players will need on Sunday; City are not going to sit back and let Arsenal pass the ball through them. The experienced players that Arsène took time to praise earlier this week will need to take more responsibility today if a win is to be achieved. The youthful exuberance of some needs to be harnessed, unleashed to maximum effect with the obvious strength of character of Vermaelen and van Persie combined with the understated Arteta and Sagna, are formidable commanders. Gradually more asides from the manager emerge about others he previously controlled, the contrast of now to then acidicly observed,
I never question the attitude of this team, which I may have done in some previous years. But this season, never. I’ve always returned home thinking this team will never give up, they are always ready for a fight…the senior players have played a big part in setting the tone in the squad.
Tacit admission that his choices of captain were dubious and the trust put in others was misplaced, that diminution tinged with hurt at departures last summer. I wonder which hurt him more; the one he has been preparing for over several summers, a return to home or money rearing its head? I suspect it was the latter myself.
To this afternoon. The team I expect to take the field will be just one different to last weekend and that is the above-mentioned change involving Aaron Ramsey. Whilst Andre Santos might be close to full fitness, to replace Kieran Gibbs would be harsh especially as he has played reasonably well. The question is who replaces the Welshman? The clamour is for Oxlade-Chamberlain with the manager’s apparent loss of trust in Gervinho mirroring – or mirrored in – the stands. It is curious how the African Cup of Nations had a detrimental impact on his form; perhaps Kolo Toure can advise him how to avoid losing the manager’s trust completely. Yet I do not think Wenger will choose the populist course; the Ivorian will probably start ahead of the England youngster leaving the line-up,
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Song, Rosicky; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
Whatever team takes the pitch, a big performance will be needed to take the necessary three points. This preview has, by necessity, been written before Spurs visit to Sunderland concludes even the first half so I assume that to my chagrin, the visitors will have won. Anything else will have been a bonus not quite beyond contemplation although all Martin O’Neill would need to do for Bendtner to be entirely wound up is pin ‘Arry’s motivational words onto the wall. Whilst they may be true, surely the Dane requires no greater reason to shove a goal or two down Tottenham throats?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.