Saturday, 17 December 2011

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Manchester City Previewed.

Arsenal face a very tough trip to league leaders Manchester City in the Premier League this Sunday afternoon. City's unbeaten start to the season was ended by Chelsea last week, and they could actually be going into this game in second place if Manchester United beat QPR earlier in the day. If the experts are to believed City are just too good, and the league is theirs to lose.

Arsenal had a very bad start to the season, but they are currently the in-form team in the Premier League with 25 points from their last possible 27. Those opening games had some painful defeats, but the team are putting them behind them, and working hard to challenge at the top again. Of course Arsenal can't win the league, but a win against City would put them in a very interesting position.

The injury problems that have plagued the club for the last few years just won't go away, and Arsenal currently have no full backs fit to play. The latest news on Kieron Gibbs is that he might be fit to face Wolves on December 26, but Carl Jenkinson looks to be out for a lot longer. Andre Santos is out for three months, but hopefully Bacary Sagna can return early in the new year.

Those injuries to all four full backs meant Arsenal had to play Everton last Saturday with four central defenders in the starting 11. I thought it made their attacking options very narrow at times, and they failed to create a lot of chances as a result. City will do everything they can to put Arsenal's two full backs on the day under pressure, and Arsenal need to cope with that threat.

The other six outfield players should be the same as they were against Everton, with Wojciech Szczesny in goal again too. It also means that Manuel Almunia will be on the bench again, as both Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone are still injured. I had hoped to see Abu Diaby return to the bench too, but funnily enough there's no injury update on him even though he should have been back by now.

There's no doubt that City are hot favourites to win this game, but I'm not convinced that they will have the bottle to come out and play against Arsenal. If they decide to play attacking football and leave things a little open, Arsenal have the best player in the Premier League in their team to make them pay for it. Robin van Persie is head and shoulders above any other player in the league at the moment, and his goals have been priceless for Arsenal.

On the face of it City's home record this season is excellent with seven wins from seven games, and 24 goals scored with only four conceded. Arsenal started very badly away from home, but they have won their last three away games in a row. Arsenal had the best away record in the league last season, and their recent away form suggests they are looking to retain that record.

Arsenal are now the second highest scorers away from home this season, but City have of course got more away goals than them. The 11 goals Arsenal have scored in those three away wins in a row will be a warning for City, and they would be foolish not to heed it. That run started with a magnificent 5-3 win away to Chelsea, and City will do well to remember that too.

I'm not saying Arsenal are definitely going to go to City and wipe the floor with them, but I feel they will acquit themselves really well. They are a lot more solid as a team than they have been for a few years, and every player is willing to work for the team to get the results the team wants. The transformation since the shambles at Old Trafford has been quite remarkable, and this is the biggest test for them since then. 

It's another trip to the same City to play against a team that have limitless funds, and bottomless pockets. Arsenal have preferred to follow a sensible business approach, and it has brought them plenty of success under Arsene Wenger. It may have been almost seven years since their last trophy, but I think the signs are encouraging for the future.

Even if Arsenal were to lose to City they have four more very winnable Premier League games in the next two weeks. Their ability to bounce back from a setback would come under scrutiny in those games if they lost, but I'm confident of the mental strength the team is developing. No team can stay unbeaten forever, as both City and Spurs learned last week, and it's the ability to bounce back which is the real mark of their strength.

However, I am predicting an Arsenal win, and I think RVP will be the man to make the difference. I also think Theo Walcott is due a goal, and he might just get the chance to get one with his pace against City. Gael Clichy will not be there to mark him of course, as he will be serving a ban after he was sent off against Chelsea.

City have got other ex-Arsenal players too, but the chances are none of them will be playing. Kolo Toure is unlikely to be picked, and neither is Samir Nasri. Nasri would like to claim he went to City to further his career, but not many Arsenal fans will believe that. They believe he was solely interested in money, and he will get an earful from the traveling Arsenal fans if he gets to come on at some stage.

My prediction is for Arsenal to win a thrilling game 3-2, and City to drop back to second in the table too. It's probably a little far fetched, but I can never predict anything other than an Arsenal win.

In other news Arsenal have been drawn against AC Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League. It's probably the toughest draw they could of got from the seven possible opponents, but I think they have a very good chance of getting a result. Arsenal will play away to Milan on Wednesday February 15, and the return leg will be on Tuesday March 6.

I'll look into those games a lot closer to those dates, and with any luck Arsenal's catalogue of injuries will not be so bad by then. The additions of Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Andre Santos will certainly strengthen the team, and there's money available to spend in the January transfer window too. Things are looking up for Arsenal fans, and a win against City would be the icing on the cake.
That's it for today.

Here's a look at what happened the last time Arsenal paid a visit to AC Milan.

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See you tomorrow.

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