Sunday, 18 December 2016

Arsenal's Trip To Manchester City Previewed

This week hasn't gone too well so far for Arsenal with a 2-1 defeat at Everton on Tuesday night. That defeat saw them fall six points behind Chelsea at the top of the league and Chelsea increased the lead to nine points when they won their 11th game in a row at Palace yesterday. To make matters worse for Arsenal they led at Everton, but Everton upped the ante after the break and Arsenal struggled. It was Arsenal's first defeat since the opening game and the 14 games unbeaten in between still have Arsenal in a strong position. 

They face another really tough game today though when they travel north again to play Manchester City. A win against Everton might have given Arsenal some lee way in this game, but the need for three points today is pressing to say the least. It's not going to be an easy task against a City team who find themselves in a very similar position in the league table at least.

From a selection perspective I wouldn't be surprised to see Arsene Wenger play the same team which he played on Tuesday night. He has a habit of keeping faith in players after they haven't done too well and giving them another chance to impress. There were a few performances in that game which were not up to scratch and the whole team has to play better both individually and as a unit.

Of course City have had their own troubles and have gradually slipped down the table after initially winning their first five games. They have struggled at home in particular and their win against Watford on Wednesday night was their first home win in five league games. They have troubles with injuries and suspensions and any team in the world would miss the suspended Sergio Aguero.

It's hard to keep pace with Chelsea at the moment and until they make a slip that's all we can hope to do. They're closing in quickly on Arsenal's record of 14 consecutive Premier League wins which was set in 2002 when Arsenal blew everyone away and won their third double. Arsenal's points tally at the moment is better than it has been at this stage in the season for all but one of the last seven seasons.

I expect a pretty open game with both teams needing the three points and I think that might favour Arsenal. City showed how vulnerable they are to pace in their 3-1 defeat at home to Chelsea and that has to be the route for Arsenal. Chelsea took them apart on the break even when City were winning and Arsenal have to take those opportunities when they get them.

All too often against Everton the wrong ball was played as Arsenal attempted to break and they allowed Everton to pile the pressure on. The right use of the ball today and correct choice of pass could and should see players like Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain use their pace to get behind the City defence and through on a keeper who has struggled at this level.

Of course Arsenal have their defensive issues too and it's been far too long since they kept a clean sheet. The left side of our defence seems to be targeted game after game by the opposition and Nacho Monreal will need help from Chamberlain if he is the one who plays wide right. The team have to defend better as a team though which means every player has to know his job and make sure he does it from first minute to last.

I still think our biggest problem is Santi Cazorla's continued absence and our inability to set the pace and control a game without him. He's not going to be back for quite a while though and the rest of the team have to step up in his absence. With Mohamed Elneny off on international duty in January the emphasis is on the partnership between Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin and those two need to assert more authority on the game.

I think City are there for the taking and with the right attitude and game plan we can go out there and do just that. A defeat would leave us in fourth and nine points behind City with Spurs and United closing closely behind us. A win would put us second for today at least and third at worst depending on how Liverpool do at Everton tomorrow night. The difference between those two results is vast in terms of where we will be going into a very busy Christmas programme. 

I hope we can play our own game and put enough pressure on their defence to make the chances we need. I would be surprised if either team keeps a clean sheet, but I think we have the players who can punish a dodgy City defence. I think it will be a very close affair and it might just take a moment of magic to decide it and surely in Alexis we have the player most likely to do just that.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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