Saturday, 14 December 2013

Man City vs Arsenal: Match Preview


Even though we are six points clear of City, today's game will determine just how better off or worse we are than them when we face them at the Etihad, just 3 days after a tiring, demoralizing trip to Italy. It's time we justify our sensational start to the season by sustaining it, starting with a victory against a team considered favourites for the title.

City have made their home ground a fortress, winning all of the league games they've played there this season. However, we have a pretty good away record too, and will hope to maintain it with a positive result there. With the transfer window not opening for more than a fortnight, and the FA Cup and the Champions League also beginning the next year, our 100% focus is undoubtedly on preserving our 5 point lead at the top, a lead that can be significantly reduced if we lose to title rivals.

In the beginning of the season, there was a lot of confusion as to who would be in the mix of being title contenders, but as we approach the first half of the season, the dust seems to have settled a bit. For me, it's looking like a three horse race of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City battling for the Premier League crown, a battle we can win if we get a striker in January. However, for now, we just have to focus on the short term - three points at the Etihad.

A draw might be a positive result at their home ground, but it would put a lot of pressure on the upcoming Chelsea game, a team who I believe are currently better than us. City have been poor on the road but have made up for it on their own ground, and they'll be oozing confidence after triumphing at the Allianz Arena just a few days ago. In stark contrast, we've suffered a damaging loss at Naples and are looking to pick up our title challenge, starting at Manchester.

Even though we are six points clear of them, they're understandably the favourites to win this game that would have a huge impact on the league table in the short term. Defence would be the key to victory today, because even though we've conceded 3 goals in the previous 2 games, our back five have looked solid throughout those matches. Weird, right?

Speaking of defence, Arsene Wenger has spoke of Bacary Sagna's status, suggesting that he has a chance of returning for this game. While Jenkinson has done an acceptable job of filling in, Bac is indisputably better than him, and we need defensive solidity in this game more than anywhere else to pick up 3 points.

There are reports coming in that Sagna is set to sign a two-year deal with Arsenal, one I pray is true. His return to being one of the best right backs in the country is remarkable, particularly after having a disastrous last season. He's become nothing short of rock solid at the back, and has also worked on his weaknesses - crossing, notably - to improve on his game. I feared that our loyal servant would leave at the end of the season, but if these reports are true, then it's brilliant, welcome news for us.

In other news, Lukas Podolski is available, but Arsene is understandably reluctant to field him immediately in such a high intensity game. I think it's possible that we might see him on the bench today, but other than that, we might have to wait another 10 days for him to make an appearance against Chelsea.

With Podolski and Sagna set to be completely fit by the Chelsea game at least, we shall only have Oxlade-Chamberlain, Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo who are injured, all three of whom aren't guaranteed a start, or indeed, a place on the bench. In the coming days, we shall have a clearer idea of what Wenger considers to be his strongest XI, or possibly starting from today.

While the back five seems set to remain as Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs, I don't think anyone apart from Ozil and Giroud are guaranteed a start ahead of them. We might see Mathieu Flamini partnered with Aaron Ramsey, with Walcott and Santi operating on the flanks. Ozil seems set to take the central attacking role again, with Giroud assuming striker.

If that's our supposed lineup, we shall have a really strong bench then, featuring Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere. It's a bench that has players who can turn around games as soon as they come on, which is a stark encouragement from the Denilsons, the Arshavins and the Gervinhos. We have a strong defence, a phenomenal midfield and a decent forward line, which should be enough to win this game.

Wenger has already emphasized on the positives, saying:

“Remember we're still top of the table and our defensive record is absolutely fantastic. That's a good basis to go into the game. Forget the fixtures. Just think about the next game and put in a quality performance."

And I think that's a good idea. At this stage, we need to think of taking the games one at a time instead of focusing on the big picture. This is a stage of the season where there is a very realistic scenario of losing our lead in the next two games, and we need to avoid it by playing sensibly.

I fear that City are going to continue their winning record by defeating us, but I also hope that I'm dead wrong. I badly want us to win today, mostly because these are exactly the kind of matches that define title contenders. Yes, we are tired and yes, we are demoralized, but a highlight of this year has been our ability to bounce back from setbacks. There's no virtue in crying over spilt milk, and we need to continue that policy by a win at Manchester. We have a squad capable of doing that, and we have the 9 point cushion as motivation of doing that. Let's go out there all guns blazing and get that victory.

It's time to show that a club is made of more than just money and oil. Come on Arsenal.

P.S. Check out this hilarious article on Arsenal's upturn in form. How dare you, Wenger?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )