Man City trip the biggest test of Arsenal's title credentials

BT Sport commentator Ian Darke previews this weekend's key clash at the Etihad Stadium...

Well the first thing is that it's a pivotal game. Arsenal have five wins against teams in the bottom half but there is a real feeling that this is the biggest test for their title credentials. There have been a lot of doubts from alleged experts about them, but if they win this one away from home I think they'll have everyone believing.
 
Arsenal just seem to have a new-found resilience about them, and that isn't just this season - they only conceded five goals in their last 10 games last term.
 
A lot of people have talked about Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, and the difference those players have made this season, but there has been a lot less made of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Those two are the best defensive pair in the Premier League at the moment, and I think the game will centre on their ability to stop Manchester City's strikers. Sergio Aguero is on a fabulous hot streak at the moment and will be a real test for Arsenal's defence.
 
Overall I think the visitors will looking to keep things tight, and I expect Arsene Wenger to go for Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in midfield to shore things up. They'll be acknowledging the fixture for the huge game it is, so I would be amazed if Flamini isn't used. He's been left out a couple of times recently, but surely won't be for Manchester City away.
 
But while Arsenal need to keep things steady at the back, when they break out they will need to create against the City defence. Swansea did quite well at the Etihad even though they lost 3-0. Jonathan de Guzman had a fantastic chance after they carved City open, so there will certainly be opportunities for Arsenal.
 
For City, though, the Bayern Munich result was massive in their history; a huge psychological boost. For all of their failures in Europe in the past few seasons, and even though the game wasn't of enormous significance, it is a huge win in the minds of the players and even more so for the supporters. They'll be going into this game with a fantastic feel-good factor.
 
It seems to me with Arsenal that a lot of their doubts come from the fact they haven't won anything for eight seasons and therefore aren't going to win anything this season either. Somehow it will all go wrong. But those opinions aren't based on anything we're seeing on the pitch. They've just had a really tough game against Everton but in the main they are playing very well.
 
So can they win the title? My answer is yes. I definitely think they can stay the course and I definitely think they've got the ability in their ranks. People are saying 'what happens if Giroud gets injured?' but there are questions about every team. City have four away defeats and were a tad lucky to get out of Southampton with a point, so there are problems with them too.
 
Ultimately, however, I think you've got to back City to just edge it but it could easily be a 1-1 or 2-2 draw. It's in their favour that they played a day earlier in midweek. But for Arsenal, a draw is a very good result. It may just answer one or two lingering questions...
 
Ian Darke is a football commentator for BT Sport. The Manchester City v Arsenal game will be exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from 12 noon on Saturday 14th December.


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