It is the ultimate showdown between two giants in the Premier League and will be a real test between two clubs looking for glory this season. Whilst one manager looks to extend his dominance amidst the summit of the Premier League, the other will simply take three points to prove he is still the right man for the job. It’s 1st v 5th as Manchester City take on Arsenal.
Things are looking pretty good for Manchester City at the moment. They are winning games by considerable margins, beating their opponents with ease and playing some truly beautiful football. Pep Guardiola seems to have found the winning formula, even if it took him a season to do it. He has now assembled a team who are not only capable of challenging for the title but also one who can win it by a landslide. Therefore, it is better to focus on a team who are capable of causing an upset. We know no team have been able to stop this City side from running rampant and now they must face an Arsenal side who have been shaky at best away from home. Will Arsene Wenger be able to stop them from being steamrolled?
Arsenal’s chances at the Etihad
It is in fact Arsene Wenger who holds the record for being the only manager who has beaten a Pep Guardiola in all three managed clubs at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. However, in the form they are in at the moment, the Citizens look way too formidable to be stopped by a side who were crushed at Anfield and only picked up their first away points at Goodison Park, against an already-deflated Everton side. So are we in for a surprise?
Well, the first thing to look at here is the past clashes between the two clubs, as they faced each other at Wembley a handful of times during the last couple of seasons. In fact, in the last ten meetings between the pair, Man City have surprisingly only won once. They have drawn 4 times and Arsenal have won the other 4, including the 2-1 win in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Put away temporary form for this season and you have to say, the Gunners have a good history against the men in sky blue and this may well be a fixture Wenger knows how to handle.
A win at the Etihad could well be the spark that can really place Arsenal as serious title challengers for the season. Even if they sit 5th right now, the Gunners have been on a good run of form, winning their last four games in all competitions and three points on Saturday could lift them up to 3rd, just six points behind City.
Often Arsenal have come to the Etihad Stadium with a game plan of playing defensively and attempting to hit City on the counter. That may well be the course of action as Guardiola has designed a system which suits relentless attacking. Even if Arsenal were to contain the main goalscorers, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, they’d still have to face the attacking onslaughts of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and wing-backs, Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker. It’ll be the toughest game Arsenal have faced yet and the defence will need to be rock solid to try and restrain the opposition. Yet we know what Wenger is like and many times he has stated that there is no difference between home and away games – it’s simply the “Arsenal way”.
Playing beautiful football
This tactic is mainly suggesting Arsenal continue to play their way of high possession football, making great attacking moves through the middle and utilising the wide-men to supply the forward. This has been a method Wenger has created and nurtured into all his players throughout his tenure at the club. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the Emirates or in an away game, Wenger rarely ever breaks from his tactic. And this could very well be the problem. Will the “Arsenal way” reap benefits against a side who press high and attack at full throttle? It’s very unlikely. We’ve seen Arsenal try to play that way against a side who heaped pressure on the back three and the Gunners ended up losing 4-0 to Liverpool. The way they performed in the 0-0 draw with Chelsea will be exactly how Arsenal should behave in the game on the weekend. Even though they’ll arguably be up against a stronger side who attack from all angles, the idea behind working hard without possession and hitting on odd counter-attacking opportunities will be the best way to go.
Looking at how City have conceded goals this year, it’s mainly come down to finding gaps behind the wing-backs who often leave their area exposed when they are attacking up the field. With the space in behind, players can get into a good position and play balls across the box. With a powerful centre-forward like Olivier Giroud, I think he should be favoured to start here over his compatriot Alexandre Lacazette who will not thrive in a fixture like this. Where Lacazette requires opportunities to get behind the defence, Giroud offers an outlet, a man who can hold up the ball as well as attack headers in the box. Arsenal will definitely need an out ball when they find themselves camped in their box.
Pressure on the defence
It’ll be a big performance needed from the men at the back though and particularly the three that play there, who I believe will be Koscielny, Mertesacker and Monreal. If the trio can keep things tight at the back, it can help keep Arsenal in the game. Where Koscielny and Monreal will use their speed and awareness to stop the threat of Aguero or Jesus, or both if they do play, where Mertesacker will have to hold the fort as it were and be wary of any players making runs in behind. It’s going to be tough and none more so than for Bellerin and Kolasinac, if the latter is fit, as they both will have to be very careful when timing their runs to ensure they don’t leave too much space in behind for Walker and Delph.
The midfield, as always in any game, will be where the game is won or lost. We already know how talented De Bruyne and Silva are but it’s actually Fernandinho who helps protect the back four and will be the player Arsenal will need to get past in order to achieve anything in the game. Looking at Arsenal’s midfield, it’s in fact Granit Xhaka who reprises this role and needs to be able to hold off attackers if he wants to become a better player. More recently, we’ve seen him struggle to contain the opposition so it will be a massive test for the Swiss international to succeed in this game.
His teammate Aaron Ramsey, who is in good form, will look to get forward but must be careful that he doesn’t leave a gap for City players to exploit. His possession will be important and the timing of his runs will be even more crucial. If he can help stars like Ozil and Sanchez thrive in this game, Arsenal have a chance of taking all three points.
It’ll be a tough game for the Gunners but one which will determine whether Arsene Wenger is truly capable of taking on the best. With the North London derby next weekend too, Arsenal know they must get points against these title rivals.