it’s Man City away today, probably the stiffest test we’ve faced yet this season. The champions, with their opulent ways, will give our defence more problems than any team we’ve played thus far, and our newly formed trinity of forwardosity will find it much more difficult against the City rearguard.
In terms of the team, the news about Szczesny means Mannone will start and although I’m heartened by his improved performances I have to admit I still have a bit of a turtle’s tail about him. I hope he continues to prove me wrong. All things considered I don’t see any changes from Tuesday so I think we’ll start: Mannone – Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Arteta – Diaby – Cazorla – Podolski – Gervinho – Giroud.
Having considered it a bit more though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he played Gervinho down the middle and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right to offer a bit more support to Jenkinson at right back. If City look for weaknesses a young full back might well be considered one even if he is playing very well at the moment. Either way, there won’t be much in the way of rotation. It’s very difficult to change a winning team and one in which partnerships are developing well all over the pitch.
Last season there was only one goal between the sides, home and away. At their place Silva scored to win the game for them, at home we controlled the game – helped by the fact Balotelli was having one of his episodes – and the late Arteta screamer got the three points for us. There might have been 19 points between us at the end of the season but head to head the difference was not so great and that’s something that we should bear in mind as we head into today’s game.
It’s not long ago that City, under Mancini, were a dour, defensive team and one of the worst games I’ve ever seen was the 0-0 we played against them towards the end of the season a couple of years ago. Now though, they have a fine array of attacking players and they’ll be out to win this one today. With all due respect to the strikers we’ve faced until now (and none is the level at which I set the bar), City’s forward options will cause us far more problems. As much as we’ve enjoyed the improved defensive focus, today is the kind of day after which we can draw some real conclusions.
What’s clear is that the improvement isn’t simply because our back four have clicked, it’s because the team as a whole works a lot harder to protect them. Arteta brings real discipline to the defensive midfield role while the way we maintain our shape and work to get the ball back when the opposition have it has been a big part of the reason our season has started so well. Of today, Arsene is keen to play down talk of potential City weakness after their disappointing defeat in Madrid during the week:
Let’s focus on us to be at our best. If we are at our best I think we have a great chance to get a good result there.
What gives the extra edge at the moment is that the Premier League is very tight. It’s the beginning of the title race and that you know that this game can have a big influence on the belief of both teams. Who has the upper hand has a psychological advantage too. So on that front it’s a very exciting game.
I don’t think their Champions League exploits will have any real impact on them. They’re a strong, experienced team and they should be well able to cope physically and mentally from what happened in Madrid. If we give them time and space they’ll take advantage of it, they have the players to do that, so the first thing we need to do is ensure that the way we play without the ball is up the standards we’ve set in recent weeks.
Then, from an attacking point of view, the ruthlessness we’ve shown in front of goal will be necessary too. We know we have players who can hurt them. Cazorla’s creativity and Podolski’s finishing have been eye-catching so far this season, but Gervinho has chipped in with goals, Diaby is more than capable, Arteta too, and depending on if he starts or not Giroud will be looking to contribute. It’d be a good day to get off the mark but if he shows the same level of performance as he did against Montpellier it’ll help the team. He won headers, offensively and defensively, and the latter might well be important today.
Overall, I don’t think we’ve really got anything to fear today. We know they’re a top team, they’re champions and if we don’t play well we’ll get found out. But if we play to our best we’re more than capable of getting three points too. If I had to put some money on it now, however, I think this one smells of a draw.
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Right then, there’s a bacon sandwich with my name on it, a large wolf to take for a walk, then a day of football beckons. Until later.