Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Sat 14 Dec | 12:45pm
The league leaders’ biggest test yet.
Manuel Pellegrini may have failed his Champions League maths test on Tuesday night, believing his Manchester City side needed two more goals to top their group when one would have sufficed, but he’ll need no reminding about the numbers come Saturday lunchtime: victory over Arsenal will take City up to second (for a few hours, at least) and within three points of the Gunners, while defeat to Arsene Wenger’s men will extend the gap to nine. We’ll resist the urge to roll out the ‘six-pointer’ cliché (it’s too early in the season for that) but, certainly as far as the visitors are concerned, the Etihad showdown is unquestionably the strongest indicator yet of their title credentials.
MAN CITY FORM
- Bayern Munich 2-3 Man City (CL)
- So'ton 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- WBA 2-3 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 3-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Man City 4-0 Viktoria Plzen (CL)
- Napoli 2-0 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Marseille (CL)
City’s incredible home form this season – 4-0, 2-0, 4-1, 3-1, 7-0, 6-0, 3-0 – would point towards a home win against any side on Earth right now, and Arsenal haven’t been helped with the scheduling of this fixture, with Saturday’s early kick-off coming barely 60 hours after their 2-0 Champions League defeat in Naples.
Resting key players in all areas of the pitch as City did the previous night – Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were among those on the bench in Munich, while Yaya Toure was suspended – was a luxury Wenger couldn’t afford as they squeezed their way into the last 16, with midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere the only absentees from Sunday’s draw against Everton.
The late equaliser they conceded to Roberto Martinez’s side would have hurt ahead of two such gruelling fixtures – Chelsea are next up at home on Monday week – but Wenger will take heart from his team's record at the Etihad, having won more games than they’ve lost there in the past decade, the most resounding being the 3-0 victory three seasons ago, when Samir Nasri bagged his seventh goal for the Gunners in as many games. Nasri should start ahead of James Milner and should the Frenchman score against his former club there’ll be none of this muted celebration malarkey, that’s for sure.
For all the flak coming Pellegrini’s way after Tuesday’s win, he can hardly be criticised for substituting David Silva after 73 minutes. The Spanish schemer had missed five weeks with a calf injury and following a goalscoring return is a likely starter on Saturday. Elsewhere, Gael Clichy is a doubt against his old club (foot), while Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic are still out with calf complaints.
For the north Londoners, Bacary Sagna (hamstring) and Lukas Podolski (hamstring) could return. Midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby are both out with knee knocks, although that’s one area of the pitch where Wenger has a wealth of options.
Key battle: Alvaro Negredo vs Laurent Koscielny
Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are both having a cracking season in central defence for Arsenal, but it was Koscielny who stood out against Everton. With Romelu Lukaku looking to bully him from the off, the Frenchman put in an intelligent, controlled display, making 8 interceptions and 9 clearances – the highest in the match on both counts – as well as 11 ball recoveries as he kept the Belgian striker quiet.
Stopping Negredo from scoring is proving an almighty challenge for defenders right now – he’s found the net in City’s last 7 home games (scoring 9). Last time out, the Beast of Vallecas proved his game’s not all about physical box play, his superbly placed free-kick giving his side the lead against Swansea.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 0-2 City (Prem, Jan 13)
- City 1-1 Arsenal (Prem, Sep 12)
- Arsenal 1-0 City (Prem, Apr 12)
- City 1-0 Arsenal (Prem, Dec 11)
- Arsenal 0-1 City (LC, Nov 11)
Pellegrini’s sloppy sums might come back to haunt him once the draw for the Champions League knockout stages is made, but he won’t be dwelling on it too much if his charges can keep on performing like they did at the Allianz Arena. Six months into the job, the Chilean’s looking as laid-back as ever, although not every City fan will be won over until they can find some consistency on the road.
"We must continue finding a style of play away from home – and this win could be very important for us," he said after beating Pep's men.
Whoever Arsenal get in the Champions League – and like City it will be a daunting tie, having finished second in their group – Wenger knows his side need to retain their Premier League focus until February:
“A lot can change on both sides, on us and the team we play against, so we need to put that to the back of our minds now and concentrate on the championship." Wise words, Arsene.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- This match pits the two most clinical teams in the Premier League against each other, with Man City scoring with 20.6% of their shots and Arsenal 18.9%.
- Arsenal have scored more goals than any other team away at Man City in the Premier League era (28).
There have been six red cards in the last six Premier League meetings between Man City (4) and Arsenal (2).
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
No stroll for City, but Aguero and Negredo to give them the edge. 2-1.