Preview: Arsenal v Manchester City
City ought to be heading to the Emirates full of confidence following a maximum nine points from the festive period. However, injuries ruling out David Silva and Mario Balotelli are undermining that view and Tevez is likely to need to rediscover his goalscoring touch.
Along with the absences, a major concern is the effect of fatigue on the players in this, the last of four matches being played in quick succession. Both Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure can drop off the pace when not at their freshest, and against Arsenal this could be costly.
Yaya was noticeably slow to close down opponents against Blackpool, and there is going to be a big onus on the Ivorian to raise his game. In the absence of Silva we’ll need him to be linking play and helping retain possession.
The in-form Adam Johnson is a likely starter, with Milner’s work-rate and willingness to help out defensively making him the more likely replacement for Silva. Jo is an option, but is more likely to be used from the bench. It shows how much Wright-Phillips’ star has fallen that it would be a surprise to see him in the starting line-up.
Joleon Lescott is another who appeared on his way out before Christmas, yet Kolo Toure’s sending-off against Everton has given him a reprieve. The former Toffee has taken his chance well and wouldn’t deserve to be dropped.
However there is a case for recalling Kolo in this fixture. His reading of the game and speed in covering for colleagues make him better suited to repelling Arsenal. Lescott’s height and physical presence is less essential unless Bendtner plays.
Following his struggles against the pace of Blackpool’s Phillips, it would be a surprise to see Mancini trust Kolarov against Walcott. Zabaleta is more likely, though the Serbian’s attacking instincts could be accommodated if Milner is dropping back to fill in.
On the opposite flank, Boateng has also failed to convince defensively and he may give way to the extra aggression of Richards. Both Micah and Zabaleta offer less going forward, but Mancini may well put the emphasis on making us difficult to break down.
This was the case in the 0-0 draw at the Emirates last season. The similar goalless encouter in the derby and approach to the Chelsea game are examples of the template Mancini is likely to use.
If we rely on discipline and resilience to give Joe Hart a quiet evening and get a result, the manager is unlikely to apologise for any lack of spectacle.
“I don’t believe in bogey teams or jinxes and things like that I only look to the next game. That City has not won in Arsenal for a long time makes no difference to what might happen on Wednesday night.
“I think if you look at the home game with Arsenal in the first half each team had six chances to score… We are looking forward to the game.”
Aside from the eight team changes that saw them draw at Wigan, the Gunners have been in good form. A smooth 3-0 away win against Birmingham and the recent turning over of Chelsea are particularly impressive.
The Arsenal midfield has recently consisted of Song, Fabregas and Wilshire in the middle, with Walcott/Arshavin and Nasri out wide. Keeping them all quiet is going to be a big ask for anyone feeling fatigued after the Christmas period.
Key to any victory will be releasing Tevez with piercing through-balls. His reputation ensures Arsenal will be worried, and if they play a high line we could capitalise.
Adam Johnson is another goal threat, and if we could deliver quality crosses at set pieces there’s always the chance of a goal against Wenger’s side. Given we’ve only managed one headed goal this season, we don’t appear the best equipped side to take advantage of their most vulnerable area.
No doubt Arsenal would be more disappointed with a draw than City. Our priority is Champions League qualification and this is a particularly difficult away game at a tough time. A win would be as good a result as we’ve had all season.
Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Richards – K Toure – Kompany – Zabaleta
de Jong – Barry
A Johnson – Y Toure – Milner
Prediction: 1-0 to City.