The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Man City
Former Title Showdown turned fourth-fighters vs first-fighters.
Cast your mind back to mid-December. After shipping six at Manchester City before being held at home by Chelsea, Arsenal won seven on the bounce, conceding only two goals along the way. Trouble is, since that run ended with a 2-2 draw at Southampton in late January, the Gunners haven't won two on the bounce; in the league, they've only won two out of the last seven.
- Arsenal 2-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Spurs 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Bayern 1-1 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 4-1 Everton (FAC)
MAN CITY FORM
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Barca 2-1 Man City (CL)
- Man City 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
And oh look, here come Manchester City.
A scriptwriter might say this is the time for Arsenal - pummelled at Chelsea and caught with a late sucker punch against Swansea - to roar their defiance and floor the favourites. Less melodramatically, Arsene Wenger's side have more more than pride and schadenfreude to play for. From being mentioned in title predictions, they now face a rearguard action to protect the fourth place that has been their minimum requirement and worst-case achievement since John Major was in power.
Tottenham may be too erratic to claim that last Champions League spot – assuming Manchester United don't win the continental trophy (well, it's a possibility) – but with four straight league wins, Everton are chasing hard. The Toffees, who welcome Arsenal to Merseyside on Sunday week, are just six points and three goals behind the Gunners with a game in hand – and, this weekend, a fixture at Fulham that looks rather more winnable than Arsenal's.
After their 10-day farewell to cup competitions, Man City have got their groove back in the league with three successive wins to nil: hard-fought at Hull, firm against Fulham, merciless at Man United. This is the second of three successive key away games – a fortnight after this, they go to Liverpool – but Vincent Kompany has welcomed the trip to London: "You don't have to make a big effort to get the lads focused again". Ominous.
Alvaro Negredo needs a goal but Edin Dzeko has three in two, David Silva is sparkling and Yaya Toure imperious. It is a sign of City's superiority that the bookmakers have them as clear favourites to win this match – and a sad sign for Arsenal that a home win would be something of a shock.
Arsenal could be "boosted" (the acceptable verb) by the return of Aaron Ramsey from thigh problems. That would be especially boosty considering Wenger lacks midfielders Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby (remember him?). The manager can expect a loud throat-clearance from Lukas Podolski, who scored and assisted against Swansea after coming on as substitute, while curious January signing Kim Kallstrom might also smile politely after making his debut in midweek. Bacary Sagna, linked this week with a three-year contract at Man City, is less likely to catch the gaffer's gaze.
City may opt to rest Pablo Zabaleta - hacked at by Danny Welbeck and elbowed by Maroaune Fellaini - but then again, possibly not: he has started every Premier League and Champions League game since mid-December. Sergio Aguero is a "maybe", says Manuel Pellegrini, which may not be good news for Thomas Vermaelen.
Key battle: Mathieu Flamini vs Yaya Toure
Against Chelsea's marauding midfield runners, Wenger bizarrely but typically preferred Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's intermittent promise to Flamini's defensive diligence. Against Swansea, Flamini was restored (and scored an unlucky own goal) and he must surely start against Man City.
With Aguero not quite fit Pellegrini may match Arsenal's midfield five, and the 5ft 8in Flamini would surely prefer to face the similarly-sized Silva than the 6ft 3in Ivorian…
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 6-3 Arsenal (Prem, Dec 13)
- 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)
Tall, grey, respected, quietly spoken, dedicated to attack, face like a rhino's hanky - Wenger and Pellegrini have a lot in common. When Samir Nasri compared their excellent man-management, the Chilean said: "We always try to play creatively and not to destroy what the other team wants to do. Both teams play as a big team. That’s very important for your mentality. Some big teams prefer to be very strong defensively and have two, three, four counter-attacking players. In that sense I think we are very similar." And in that sense, this could be another nice attacking nine-goal thriller.
Facts and figures
- Arsenal’s last 9 home matches against top-six teams have all had fewer than 3 goals.
- 6 of Arsenal’s last 8 home games have been goalless at half-time.
- Arsenal have won just 1 of their last 6 games against Man City.
- Man City have won 7 of their last 9 away matches and were ahead at half-time in 6 of the wins.
- Man City have won 5 of their 9 trips to top-six sides since the start of last season including three 2-1 wins.
Could be a cracker, but could also be a coldly clinical away win by a City side with their eyes on the prize. 0-2.