Saturday, 14 December 2013

Arsenal Face A Huge Test At Manchester City

It's been a tough week for Arsenal so far with a game last Sunday followed by the midweek trip to Napoli. Those games may not have gone quite as well as Arsenal would have liked but they're still five points clear at the top of the league and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Ideally they would have beat Everton and got the point they needed against Naloli to win their group, but it's a far from ideal world we live in.

It doesn't get any easier for Arsenal either with their next two games coming against the teams considered to be the most likely Premier League winners this season. First of all they face the daunting prospect of a trip to City in the early kick off on Saturday and then they play at home to Chelsea nine days later. That nine day break will be of great benefit to the players as some of them must be feeling the effects of the current hectic schedule despite Arsene Wenger rotating the team a little.

City have an incredible home record in the league this season with seven wins out of seven games and 29 goals scored in those games. They have thrown everything at the opposition in those games and despite being vulnerable at the back have only conceded two goals. I've watched them a number of times at home and was surprised at home many genuine chances their opponents got in those games and how easily City won in the end on almost every occasion.

They tried the same tactics at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and were shown that it isn't always going to work against a very good team. City showed how good they can be themselves though by coming from behind to win the reverse fixture on Tuesday last. If Arsenal are to have a chance they will have to be as ruthless with City as Bayern were in that win at the Etihad.

City have some fantastic players and can sign almost any player they want with a bottomless pit of oil money to support them while financial fair play is still only paid lip service. On the other hand Arsenal have to be run like any other business and work within their actual resources while trying to progress and build for the future. Despite the vast wealth of the two main shareholders in Arsenal there has never been any question of them putting a red cent of their own money into the club.

To be honest I prefer it that way and I wouldn't like to see the club spend money they don't actually have chasing short term glory. Added to that I can't say I would like the profits from the suffering of others ploughed into the club for the benefit of the multi rich. The Arsenal model may be frustrating for us fans at times but it's infinitely superior to City's or Chelsea's in my opinion.

Back to actual football matters anyway and the task Arsenal face. I can only assume the boss will play the strongest team possible and ask for one more big effort from the players before they have a chance of some recovery time. The scheduling of the Everton game and this game have been a joke by the Premier League and it's quite obvious the TV companies call the shots. 

I hope Bacary Sagna is fit to return because his experience and superior defensive qualities will be needed ahead of those of Carl Jenkinson. I'm not trying to knock Jenkinson as Sagna is a top quality full back and Jenkinson still had an awful lot to learn. Hopefully the club can come to some sort of agreement with Sagna to get him to stay for another year or two and maybe pass whatever he can about the art of defending on to Jenkinson. The rest of the defence picks itself with Kieran Gibbs still preferred to Nacho Monreal on the left and Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny nailed on certainties unless they are injured. 

In midfield I expect Mesut Ozil will be asked to play once again and he needs the rest more than anyone else at the moment. At least Aaron Ramsey spent most of Wednesday night on the bench and hopefully his batteries will be a little recharged as a result. I also expect to see the Mikael Arteta and Mathieu Flamini defensive partnership deployed to help to protect the back four and hold City at bay. The most interesting choice for me will be the other player to be picked in the starting team besides Olivier Giroud who will of course lead the line.

It's a choice between Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott and personally I'd like to see Walcott get the nod if he's fit enough to start. He hasn't started a game since returning from injury and his pace could be very important for Arsenal if they hope to hit City on the break. The other two players might be more capable of keeping possession and playing the passing football are so good at, but Walcott offers a different route go goal which could be important.

If Arsenal are going to have a chance of getting a result they will have to be at their very best and take the chances which come their way. City have some fantastic attacking players but they are vulnerable at the back and Arsenal are good enough to take advantage of it. Ramsey has been in fantastic form this season and Ozil is a player who makes things happen and I think those two players could be the ones to make the difference for Arsenal. 

I would be happy to see Arsenal become the first team to take a point off City at home this season and I think they might just do so. A win would be fantastic for the players and the club too, but I would be more than happy with a draw. Whatever happens they will still be on top of the league after this weekend, but avoiding defeat is infinitely superior to the alternative. 

While Arsenal are enjoying the nine day break after the City game some of the other challengers will be playing Capital One Cup quarter finals. I really hope Chelsea, City, United and Spurs win their games and set themselves up with two legged semi finals among those four teams in January. That would surely work to the advantage of an Arsenal team who will have no such distractions just after the turn of the year when the FA Cup games kick in.

There's a lot of people looking forward to the game between City and Arsenal and thinking it's going to be a very good game between two excellent footballing teams. Sometimes these games can be a big disappointment after all the build up and end being a bit of a damp squib. I'm not too concerned about how good or bad the game is as the result is all important to Arsenal and hopefully they can get something out of the game. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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