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EPL Match Day 22: Arsenal v Manchester City

Accept challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.
-George Patton

So begins the next great challenge in this wild and wooly Arsenal season.  Today – Wednesday 5 January 2011, two teams with title credentials will meet as our Gunners take on the light blue side of Manchester.

So far this season it’s chock full of ups, downs and everything in between. A win today and all the ups will likely come to one great explosion of joy. Lose and well the normal doom and gloom discussions can resume.  For the Gunners the fixture list looks a little more comfortable after this challenging tie and that is only one reason why getting maximum points today is so important. Gaining all the points today with some easier fixtures in the offing means we can work on applying some pressure on to Fergie’s men in red (and his red nose).

For all Gooners a win today would mean, “it seems like old times” before money interlopers intruded on their two way race to hold aloft the title. For City, they would say the title is definitely coming to Manchester one way or the other. All that aside this match has all the landmakrs of a collossal – wait for it – DUD. That’s right I said dud. Why you ask? Well, first everyone expects this match to be the meat of the midweek fixtures. Some have called it to be the match of the season.  Two very talented teams going at each – no doubt about that. With both teams having enough talented fire power to crush each other. But let’s harken back to this fixture last season when we last met at the Emirates and the tie was one of the most boring of the season.

Frankly I place the blame at the feet of Roberto Mancini. His application of the Italian way of doing things, doesn’t apply itself well to winning the big matches. In Italy managers who face teams that are direct competition (ie – threat) play formations that lend themselves to dragging out draws – as exhibits for the defence, I give you this season’s City matches against, Spurs, United and until John Terry decided to take the rest of the match off, Chelsea. In each of those matches City were not playing to win. Hell, they only won against Chelsea because as I mentioned Terry had a senior moment and let Carlos Tevez play past him in the 72nd minute.

Mancini does not want to threaten his position in the table. A loss to Arsenal (with Arsenal having a game in hand) is almost putting themselves 6 points off Arsenal and 9 off of United. A draw is more apt to maintaining the current table status quo. Now, I might think different about City’s style of play if David Silva were in the lineup. But a knee injury is going to keep him and Mario Balotelli out of the game. Which means City turn to James Milner to be their creative mid-field spark. Quaking in your boots? Me too.

Sure they bost a side with Carlos Tevez and whenever he has the ball he is always a threat. His biggest flaw however is trying to do it all himself and not rely on his team. If you can shut him down (Alex Song you reading this) their primary attack is gone. That would leave Adam Johnson as their only real threat and I think Wilshere and the defence can handle him. The problem that would remain for Arsenal is an age-old one – defending on set pieces. City do boast some rather tall and strong players and they could take advantage of that.

For Arsenal to me the plan is simple, play a pressing game exactly like you did against Chelsea. Don’t let Tevez get comfortable with the ball and go on one of his long runs. What Arsenal do off the ball is going to be as important in this match as what they do on it. Without the creativity of Silva, City are already going to be lacking a real flair to their play. The more we can shut down any movement the better it is for our offensive weapons to take control of the match.

The thing our boys need to be wary of (when they have the ball) is errant passes. City will be happy to play defencively and look for the opportunity to exploit any bad passing. Without Silva this is their most effective way to get the points they want. Get the ball to Tevez on the counter and we could have issues. So the passing around has to be sharp, decisive and on point.

I fully expect the lineup to be the lineup that featured against Birmingham and Chelsea. With the FA Cup and Carling Cup coming up there are opportunities to rest players. This is an important match and our first team has shown that they can rise to the occassion.

I expect City will look to shut down our own passing lanes and force Arsenal to try and unlock them. I believe the advantage there lies with Fabregas who is showing more and more glimpses that he is coming back as his maestro self. With outlets like Nasri, Walcott and Van Persie the availability of attacking options to unlock City are numerous. It just remains to be seen if Fabregas can exploit them in tight quarters. But the tastiest battles will happen in the midfield  between Nasri/Fabregas and De Jong/Barry. If Nasri and Fabregas continue to do their best Xavi and Iniesta imitation it could make life a bother for the City tandem. Barry has not fared well against Nasri on a few occassions, (see his getting nutmegged by the Frenchman in the international friendly at Wembley for reference).  And Fabregas has enough experience dealing with the Dutch midfielder.

The other area of exploitation for Arsenal will be to use Theo’s speed against City’s much slower defence. Kolarov and Boateng are not in the same league in terms of speed as even Ashley Cole. Theo starting will keep them honest or as he comes into the game (ala Chelsea) he will have his way working the defence. City can ill afford to have him left open.

This is going to be a hard match. It is going to require a full team effort. From the back “5” to the front 6 – each part of this team is going to need to show everything they have. City are not a light weight team any more and 35 years of beating them on home soil means nothing with the talent they have assembled. One wrong misstep or blunder and City have the talent and desire to exploit it themselves.  A win today and the world is right and we are on target to push United for the title (which could be why Fergie is giving Wenger a little more verbal attention these days.)

How the Match Should Play Out:
This is so bloody hard to call. I said it could be a dud and I think it will be. I think the two teams are going to play to not make mistakes. Which means a slow, deliberate style designed to bore us all. The thing is, Arsenal are a patient team. They’ve scored the most goals in the waning minutes of a match than any other team this season. So the tempo doesn’t bother me. but overall, I really don’t see Mancini deviating from his normal mode of doing business. They will fight for the draw only taking advantage of clear chances on the counter. While Arsenal could get frustrated trying to get through a clogged final third of the pitch.

Players To Watch:
Arsenal: Cesc Fabregas. He is coming into his own again. Against Chelsea and again against Birmingham, he has shown that his control of game can dictate the outcome of it. He is when in form the best creative midfielder in Europe and his budding partnership with Nasri could portend good things for Arsenal (Should Cesc stay)

Manchester City: Carlos Tevez. If Tevez played for us, I’d love him (until he pulled his homesick bullshit that is) but since he plays for City, I hate him. He is a tenacious player with an exceptional work rate. But frankly he has seemed off to me ever since coming back into the fold after his whiole transfer request saga.

Probable Starting XI:

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Diaby (thigh) Almunia (ankle) Frimpong (knee), Vermaelen (Achilles)

Manchester City: Silva (knee) Balotelli (knee)

Leading Scorers:
Arsenal: Nasri13 (9 league) Chamakh 10 (7 league) Walcott 9 (6 league)

Manchester City 12 (12 league); Balotelli 8 (5 league)

Last Meeting: (EPL)
Arsenal: 3
Manchester City: 0

Last 5:
Arsenal: WLWDW

Manchester City: WLWWW

Goals For:
Arsenal: 2.4 (home)

Manchester City: 1.9 (away)

Goals Against:
Arsenal: 1.2 (home)

Manchester City: 0.9 (away)

Goal Difference:
Arsenal: 20

Manchester City: 17

Match Officials:
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistant Referees: Darren Cann & Stephen Child
Fourth Official: Stuart Attwell

Broadcast Information:
US: ESPN2 ESPN3 (online) 1445 EST

UK: SkySports 2 1945 GMT


GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!!

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 2

Manchester City: 1


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