Man City Preview: Arsenal Aim To Bury Citizens’ Title Hopes
The famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said,
A lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost.
Arsenal host Manchester City in a crucial clash between the second and fourth placed teams in the Barclays Premier League at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon, and Sartre’s words about self belief apply to both teams in equal measure.
A win for Manchester United in the early kick-off could see City start the game eight points behind their neighbors. Lose today and the Citizens will almost certainly have to live in the shadow of their bitter rivals for yet another season.
For Arsenal, Tottenham’s draw at Sunderland yesterday means a draw here would be good enough to regain third place. However, the Gunners will want to keep their destiny firmly in their own hands by securing three points at home today, with both Newcastle and Chelsea also in the chasing pack.
Right, so no pressure then. Let’s get into it, Arsenal first of course.
Arsene Wenger confirmed on Friday that the squad remains unchanged from the QPR game. Neither Diaby or Coquelin are back yet, and Wilshere will is not be ready for at least 2-3 weeks. Mertesacker and Frimpong are long-term injuries.
Manchester City are likely to include Joleon Lescott and Sergio Aguero after a late test on Saturday, and Samir Nasri also comes in after recovering from a slight injury and a ‘family problem’.
The Citizens haven’t won at Arsenal since 1975 and recent seasons have seen the Blues park the proverbial bus in trying to get something out of the game. They have managed this, drawing both times on their last two visits to the Emirates in the league. A draw will not be an option for them today though, so in theory, it should make for an attacking game of football.
Let’s look at the numbers first. The table below compares selected Passing and Offensive stats for both teams in the league so far this season.
As is evident, both teams are well matched in most respects. Manchester City have more assists, marginally more shots on target and a slightly higher conversion ratio, which is why they have scored 13 more than Arsenal. Otherwise, there are no areas where one team dominates the other as far as passing and offensive play is concerned.
Now let’s look at some Defensive stats:
Once again, the numbers are remarkably even, with similar percentages of ground and aerial duels won, as well as successful tackle rate and number of interceptions.
There are two elements with a substantial difference between the teams, these are the bottom two highlighted in bold. Arsenal have made 16 more defensive errors than City, and as a consequence, have conceded 16 more goals than City. Essentially, Arsenal have been punished to the maximum for every error committed.
It only confirms what we have seen during the season. The lack of full backs affected our defense with constant changes not allowing for an understanding to be developed among the back line. For City, although Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott have been missing lately, they had good cover with Kolo Toure and Micah Richards filling in when required.
Tactically, Arsenal will almost certainly revert back to the 4-2-1-3 formation that has been so successful at home recently. Almost the entire team selects itself. The back line will remain unchanged, and Song, Arteta and Rosicky are all certainties in midfield. Theo Walcott is on a good run of form and RvP is undroppable, so the only position open to debate is on the left wing. Either of Gervinho, Alex Oxlade, Aaron Ramsey or Yossi Benayoun could start, given that Arsene does not seem to have fixed down a regular starter for that position yet.
I have a suspicion that Arsene might start with Yossi Benayoun again, as he did against Tottenham in that memorable comeback. The Israeli was excellent in that match and started the next game at Liverpool but was not very effective, finding himself on the bench once more for the next game.
Wenger may prefer the Israeli’s experience, quick feet and work rate in a big match. Whoever plays on the left wing will be up against Micah Richards going forward, and while the Israeli may seem a bit lightweight, he has the ability to trick past players and retain the ball better than Gervinho. Also, as discussed later in this article, Arsenal may need a tireless midfielder on our left wing to contain City’s right-sided attacks.
Of course, this is dependent on their form in training and if Benayoun is not quite there, then I suspect AW might unleash the Ox on the left wing.
My Arsenal starting XI:
Szczesny / Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Gibbs / Song – Arteta – Rosicky / Walcott – Van Persie – Benayoun
Manchester City’s team selection will be based on the fitness of Lescott, Aguero and Nasri. Assuming all three are fit, I expect them to line up in a 4-2-1-3 formation similar to Arsenal’s:
Hart / Richards – Lescott – Kompany – Clichy / Yaya Toure – Barry – Balotelli / Silva – Aguero – Nasri
This will set up a few interesting contests all over the pitch. Walcott against Clichy, Nasri against Sagna, Song against Yaya Toure and Van Persie versus Kompany & Lescott.
Going forward, most of Arsenal’s attacks will originate on the right side. There are multiple reasons for this: good understanding between Walcott and Sagna, the improved quality of the full-back’s crossing, the limited role of Clichy in forward attacks and Nasri’s less than capable defensive abilities. The triumvirate of Rosicky, Sagna and Walcott will try to draw the City defense out and create opportunities for each other by running behind the City back line and trying to set up chances for RvP.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain starts, it will give Arsenal a more potent attacking threat on the left as well. However, it then means that Gibbs will be playing further up in support of the Ox. This will leave us vulnerable on City’s stronger right side. Although David Silva has gone off the boil in 2012, he’s still a massive threat with his silky skills and ability to find the perfect pass. I expect the Spaniard to keep cutting across and trying to take on central defenders, while Micah Richards will aim to stretch our defense by running down the flank.
Gibbs is improving since his return and looked very good at Everton, but he is still susceptible to making positional mistakes and gets caught upfield quite a lot. At QPR, Gibbs and Vermaelen seemed to be too eager to win the ball early and left big gaps behind them when they lost challenges.
This is the reason I believe Arsene may start with Benayoun (even Gervinho), wanting to frustrate Silva by keeping things defensively solid and not being too adventurous going forward on our left side. It may seem a little negative, but it will avoid the danger of us being countered on that side. He then retains the option to add a different dynamic by bringing on Alex Oxalde during the latter stages of the game.
In the centre, Vermaelen and Kocielny will need to be decisive and cut out the errors. They would also do well by not getting too tight to Sergio Aguero. The Argentine is lethal enough to punish any misjudgment. We don’t know which Mario Balotelli will turn up this evening, but Arsenal need to ensure he does not get time on the ball.
All in all, it points towards an exciting game, although sometimes these occasions can become cagey affairs with both sides not willing to get exposed. I believe the first 15 minutes will set the tempo for the rest of the match. The longer it remains at 0-0, the more confident the visitors will feel of nicking a goal on the counter. They have the personnel to do it and Arsenal must keep focused for the entire 90 minutes.
As much as my heart says Arsenal, my mind says both teams are pretty evenly matched. My prediction is a 2-2 draw and a thrilling, attacking game of football.
Back with the review tomorrow, hoping to be proven completely wrong with a thumping Arsenal victory. Happy Easter Sunday to all and enjoy the game.
Up Yours Nasri. Go Gunners!