There will be many Arsenal fans dreading the visit of high-flying Manchester City to the Emirates, but as this season has already shown, nothing should be taken for granted. Not that I’m suggesting that Arsenal haven’t got a gargantuan task to keep Pep Guardiola’s side from knocking in at least three goals and heading off with another three points, they have, but Arsenal have the tools to surprise and at least make a game of it.
It will require huge amounts of concentration and a ruthless streak in front of goal, something Arsenal haven’t quite mastered on the evidence of their European adventure against Benfica. City, for all their talent, inventiveness and class can be hurt, but only if you play them at their own game by saturating the midfield, challenging for every ball, and constantly feeding the interchangeable routes to the goal of both flanks and in particular, supplying the key threats in attack.
Manchester City will no doubt have the lions share of possession and Arsenal may be chasing shadows for the majority of this clash but when they do have the ball, it needs to be released quickly to the front via the likes of Bellerin, Tierney (if fit), Ceballos (if selected) and the silky feet of Odegaard, who managed to show that he has the talent to provide impetus to the Arsenal cause.
The passing will need to be sharp and precise because having soaked up considerable pressure over 60 or 70 minutes, the Gunners will need to offer something up the other end to avoid becoming overrun. Let’s also add that City have had their share of good fortune in recent encounters. In December’s 4-1 defeat in the Carabao Cup, Arsenal looked reasonably good until Gabriel Martinelli was poleaxed by the City keeper in a challenge for a 50/50 ball, and with the only real threat removed, City coasted.
The game before that was a narrow 1-0 victory and who can forget the self-inflicted loss when David Luiz gifted City a goal before getting himself sent off. Let’s not get too maudlin, remember the 2-0 Arsenal victory in the semi-finals of the FA Cup which took everyone by surprise. Are we due for another?
Manchester City are superior no doubt but they aren’t unbeatable. It depends if Arsenal have the right attitude, spirit, and determination, but they have to take their chances and there will be chances available. Aubameyang or Lacazette need to be more clinical and take the pressure off Saka and Smith Rowe to deliver the goods every game. This could even be the game where Odegaard shows his full repertoire and hurts City with a punishing and decisive pass.
Game plans tend to go out the window with City. If the opponent tries to attack them constantly, they get caught on the break, if they try to contain them they become overwhelmed. It’s a case of fox and hounds, Arsenal need to show a fair amount of savvy to avoid playing into City’s hands. The basics are – defend as a unit, break quickly and cleanly, utilise possession when fortunate enough to have any, strike clinically but it’s City, so it could still be in vain.
How do I feel about this Arsenal vs Manchester City encounter? Optimistic, we’re due one over City but they have shown alarming levels of consistency recently, brushing all aside with imperious ease. Yet, if Arsenal can exploit the space behind and penetrate the final third, City may be reminded that they have to be strong mentally to achieve greater success. They’ve virtually won the league, they just have to push it until it’s as mathematically impossible for their rivals as it appears at this moment in time.
MATCH FACTS (Courtesy of BBC Sports)
- Manchester City are unbeaten in the past 10 Premier League meetings, scoring at least twice in nine of those games.
- Arsenal have lost seven successive league matches against City, failing to score in their last three at home.
- The Gunners could fail to score in four consecutive home league games against the same opponent for the first time in their history.
- Arsenal’s win against Leeds last time out was a first in four Premier League fixtures.
- The Gunners are unbeaten in six league games at home (W3, D3).
- Arsenal’s four home defeats in 2020-21 equal their highest number of losses at the Emirates Stadium in a season.
- They have won just three of their past 18 top-flight matches against the league leaders (D4, L11).
- However, Arsenal’s triumph against Liverpool in July means they can win consecutive games versus the team top of the table for the first time since 2007 when the second fixture was also against Manchester City.
- Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s hat-trick versus Leeds means he has scored 201 goals in 369 top-flight matches.
Preferred Team: Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Ceballos/Partey, Odegaard; Smith Rowe, Saka, Aubameyang.
Predicted Score: I’m going to risk it, my head says a draw at best, my heart says 1-0 win. Damn the optimist in me.