Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 18 December 2016
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Kick off: 16:00
For football purists, Manchester City vs. Arsenal could be considered the pinnacle of high-quality football in the Premier League. Every year, it’s an exhibition of swashbuckling attacking play, excitement and goals. It’s also had a fiery edge to it since City hit the jackpot, with Arsenal fans resentful of City signing a number of their players.
And there was also this legendary scene when ex-Gooner Emmanuel Adebayor created one of the most famous football GIFs.
In the past season or two, it has lost a little of the volatile edge it had, becoming more of a polite game of football between two entertaining sides. And with Samir Nasri enjoying the sunshine of Andalusia, only the unoffensive Gaël Clichy may serve as a reminder tomorrow of the days when Arsenal were perceived as something of a feeder club to ‘nouveau riche’ Manchester City.
So what is there to consider ahead of tomorrow’s 4 o’clock kick-off?
Pragmatism or Philosophy?
Pep Guardiola is a ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ type of manager. He’ll either successfully convert his footballing philosophy to the Premier League or go down trying. And good on him. While neanderthals in the press call on him to ‘adapt’ to the Premier League (that is, play the percentages and hit it long), he is trying to bring something brand new to English football that could have long-term benefits for both the league and Manchester City.
Unfortunately, we’re enduring some serious growing pains. It’s painful to watch at times, but those of us with faith believe this pain will lead to something special in the future. Right now, there is a lack of balance and the team is not performing like it did early on. Suspensions and injuries don’t help, but a Pep Guardiola side in its final form would not have to rely heavily on the individuals, because the system would function like a well-oiled machine.
Tomorrow, we’re up against a side with great midfield options and pacy attackers. If City do not step up, it could get very ugly, very fast, just like it did against Leicester. That makes me wonder if Guardiola may adapt a more pragmatic approach, possibly going with a double pivot of Yaya Touré and Fernando. That won’t necessarily stop Arsenal overrunning us, but if we have two midfielders further back and the rest of the team pressing like Pep wants them too, we’d be less exposed and give ourselves a better chance of taking something away from the game.
It’s been three years…
Let’s be honest, our record in big Premier League games has been appalling and unacceptable for a while now. Last season, we lost the majority of them and drew a few. One of those draws was in Manuel Pellegrini’s final home game in charge, when Arsenal and City played out a 2-2 draw. By our recent standards, that wasn’t a bad result against Arsenal. The previous year, they came to the Etihad and beat us 2-0 with a clinical performance. Not since December 2013, and that exhilarating 6-3 win, have Manchester City beaten Arsenal. Since then, it has been three draws and three defeats in all competitions. We also lost a pre-season friendly in Sweden this August, but we won’t count that one.
No Mustafi offers hope
City are hit by suspensions and injuries, but should look to the absence of Shkodran Mustafi for hope. Arsenal have been outstanding with the 24-year-old German in the team, but he will be absent tomorrow. He was also missing on Tuesday night when Arsenal lost their first match away from home in any competition since March, going down to Everton. Arsenal fans will probably be saying the same about our ropey defence, but the absence of Mustafi weakens the Gunners significantly at the back, and if City are smart and clinical, they could exploit this.
The one we wanted is the one to watch
Arsenal are a team with great quality, but the one to watch is Alexis Sánchez. Following Manuel Pellegrini’s admission earlier this week that City wanted to sign Sánchez from Barcelona, it means there have now been two attempts to sign the 27-year-old. In his last five games, Alexis has scored six goals and contributed three assists. I’m going to whisper this quietly, but I have a feeling that if you offered Pep Guardiola either Alexis Sánchez or (a suspension-free) Sergio Agüero right now, he wouldn’t pick the scorer of City’s most famous goal. The Blues must find a way to keep Sánchez on a leash tomorrow or he could punish us, just like he did in May at the Etihad when he made it 2-2.
Our recent record in big games (and against Arsenal) doesn’t fill me with great hope for tomorrow, but I’ll try to be optimistic and go for another 2-2 draw. If Pep’s men can pull off a win, it could really swing the momentum again. But with so many players absent and the ongoing struggles to get the system working, that may be asking for too much at this stage.
Predict the score:
[statsfc-score-predictor key=”D8SJIk7F6vySBuDaFQRSHy11xfbyCt18uXRinj2b” team=”Man City” date=”2016-12-18″ default_css=”true”]