Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 8 May 2016
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Kick off: 16:30
Manuel Pellegrini will bid farewell to the Etihad Stadium tomorrow and it’s fitting that Arsenal will be the opponents in his final home game as our manager. Pellegrini will be remembered for bringing a blustering style of attacking football to Manchester City; for questionable defending, for headhunting uncut diamond Fernandinho, for all-round wacky excitement. All of the above were on show in perhaps Pellegrini’s most memorable win as we thwacked Arsenal 6-3 at the Etihad in 2013 – his first year at the club.
Two years on and our record against the top clubs has deteriorated into an unacceptable mess. In our 13 games against this season’s top 8 we’ve won just one game and based on that dreadful record alone, Arsenal will be confident going into this weekend’s clash. The indolence that has characterised many of our displays in the league finally seeped into a bright Champions League jaunt last week as the team decided, three quarters of the way to the summit, that they couldn’t be arsed. This was a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in a city famed for its contribution to football. City contributed nothing, and after making a point of booing the Champions League anthem throughout the knockout stages, we found ourselves rightfully on the end of a almighty heckle from offended football fans around the world.
Unfortunately, for ‘this Charming Man’, he’ll also be remembered as an underachiever. I guess it’s up to us to decide whether Pellegrini will leave as a success or a failure.
Beating Arsenal on Sunday, which would all but confirm a top four place for us next season, would definitely go some way to improving the fan’s opinion of him. There’ll be no more resting players for Champions League fixtures, so what we should have tomorrow is complete and utter focus from the team on securing European football.
By the manager’s own admission, failing to do that would be a “disaster” for the club – something that could render Pep Guardiola’s first year in charge as a wasted 12 months. But Pellegrini, despite the fact he’ll be on his way at the end of the season, plans to finish the campaign strongly.
“If you are not in the top four and in the Champions League the next year, to demonstrate you are one of the best teams in England, then for me it’s a disaster of a season,” he said.
“That’s why I always said last year, when we didn’t win any titles, that it was not a disaster. It was not a good season, no, it was not a good season. But a disaster is when you are not involved in the next season’s Champions League. That is a disaster for all the big teams.”
Whether we finish in the top four or not, Guardiola will have a number of key decisions to make regarding personnel. Vincent Kompany suffered his own, and fifth, personal disaster of this season in the 1-0 loss against Real as he trudged off after ten minutes with a thigh injury. In short, despite being far and away the club’s best defender, Kompany can no longer be relied upon and searches have already commenced to find his replacement. Pablo Zabaleta has presumably played his last game for the club and while it’ll be sad to see such a club legend depart, his decline has been rapid. Fewer tears will be shed for Aleksandar Kolarov who’ll go on to finish his career at a level much more suited to him in Malaysia or summat, while the futures of Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando, Fernandinho and Samir Nasri hang in the balance. Personally, I feel all four have done enough at the tail end of the season to suggest they deserve a chance to work under Pep.
This season has been disappointing, but at least we can say we’re making an effort to remedy our failures. The same can’t be said for Arsenal who look set to keep serial underachiever Arsène Wenger as manager after another poor season. With the big guns all out of the title race, this was Arsenal’s chance. True to form, they bottled it and will face a struggle keeping hold of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez in this summer’s transfer market. The Gunners have won only two of their last five games and looked unconvincing in the 1-0 victory over Norwich last weekend.
Arsenal will be without Per Mertesacker (hamstring) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee). Guardiola is reportedly an admirer of the Englishman, but City can’t be doing with any more injury prone players.
Kompany, Zabaleta and Kolarov are all unavailable, meaning a back four of Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala and Clichy is likely.
Arsenal are in third place, so I can’t say I’m confident. A draw is what I’m going for.
Predict the score:
[statsfc-score-predictor key=”D8SJIk7F6vySBuDaFQRSHy11xfbyCt18uXRinj2b” team=”Man City” date=”2016-05-08″ default_css=”true”]