A massive game tonight and one which draws a number of contrasts between the two teams.
City are big, physical and expensively assembled. Arsenal smaller, lighter and put together in a much more prudent fashion. During his press conference yesterday Arsene was asked about how he felt about the way City had become a Premier League force and said:
I personally am a big fan of the way we do it, so I try to be successful with the way we do it. You can also do it the way Inter do, or Manchester City do, they buy the best players in the world, and it works as well. What I want to show is it works our way as well.
The influx of cash to the Middle Eastlands means they’ve been able to spend massive amounts of money on some of the best players in the world. Whatever you think of the sugar-daddy ownership when the whistle blows at 7.45 tonight it won’t matter a bit. Their rise has been meteoric, Mancini has done a far better job than Mark Hughes and they are genuine title contenders. And that’s what tonight’s game should be judged on. Two teams that want to win the league. They’ve grown their way, we’ve grown ours and it’s going to be the 90 minutes we judge, not the bank balances.
Of course you can’t ignore City’s money and how they choose to throw it around but what can you do about it other than pick your best team and hope, on the day, they’re good enough to take the three points? There’s a lot more to management and running a football club than simply buying players. It takes time to put together a squad that can gel on and off the pitch. Does yesterday’s fight between Kolo and Adebayor hint at problems within the City squad in terms of their togetherness and spirit? Perhaps, but I don’t think it will make the slighest difference to them tonight.
Training ground differences can be put aside once you step out on the pitch and City will be looking for a result tonight. It will be interesting to see how they approach the game. I had the misfortune of being at this fixture last season and it was one of the dullest, most tedious games of football I think I’ve ever seen. Despite being in the chase for a Champions League spot City’s gameplan that day was to ensure they didn’t lose. There was no real ambition on their behalf to try and win the game.
I expect them to a bit different tonight. United’s win against Stoke’s ludicrous defending means they’re three points ahead of their neighbours with a game in hand so they might be a little more focussed on taking three points than simply not losing. However, the way Mancini sets his team out means they’ll concentrate first and foremost on not conceding then looking to the not inconsiderable talent of Carlos Tevez to grab a goal. I don’t know his exact record but it’s ridiculously good and he’s the kind of player who can punish you even when you think you’ve got him covered. The centre-halves are going to have a real job on their hands tonight. They handled Drogba well 10 days ago but this is a completely different kind of test for them.
City’s size means they’re going to be a real danger from set-pieces as well. They have so many big men to throw forward that any lapse in defensive concentration could cause serious problems. As much as we love to get forward we have to ensure that we maintain defensive discipline when we lose it and when they have the chance to get it into the box.
I don’t see any changes from the team that played Birmingham. When hard work is required the manager would be foolish to bring back Arshavin. I think van Persie will keep his place up front allowing us the option of Chamakh and Bendtner from the bench if necessary. Djourscielny will continue at the centre of the defence and it’s no coincidence that our best performances recently have come when Song and Wilshere have prioritised, for the most part, the defensive side of their games.
City’s penchant for defensive midfielders means that Cesc and Nasri are likely to be closely marked but as we saw against Birmingham they’ve got the ability and quick feet to make space in the tightest of areas. What’s crucial, in my opinion, is that we look back at the Chelsea game and remember how the pressing and hard work made such a difference. With two cup games coming up and a chance for this ‘first XI’ to get a bit of a breather, there can be no excuses for not putting in maximum effort. We saw how that was rewarded against Chelsea and while it doesn’t guarantee the right result it certainly makes life difficult for the opposition, especially one that might just lack a little something in terms of pace and agility. Pound for pound there’s no comparison but if we use our strengths correctly we can cause them real problems.
I don’t see this as a game in which we’ll create a great many chances so we need to be a bit ruthless when we do. Robin van Persie was particularly profligate against Birmingham, that kind of wastefulness tonight will cost us points. We have to show that the Chelsea game wasn’t just a one-off, the home form has been dodgy this season and while that game went some way to putting things right there’s still a way to go before we can say we’ve become tough to beat the Grove. Arsene says:
The squad is confident, has great belief, very hungry, highly motivated to do well and overall physically we are in a good shape.
It’s our last league game until Saturday week. We have the chance to go second. A chance to prove that we’re a match for City’s billions and that we’re going to really fight for this title. Let’s hope we get the performance that a game of this importance deserves.
In other news the boss confirmed that he wouldn’t be going into the transfer market unless the news about Thomas Vermaelen was bad, saying:
The next ten days to two weeks will be an important test for him and hopefully he can get through well. We will see. I will have to make a decision before the end of January.
Bolton’s Gary Cahill has been mentioned as a possible target and whether or not Carlos Vela’s loan move there might play a part remains to be seen. Bolton are willing to sell but I have doubts about Cahill’s ability. He’s a good player but perhaps his Englishness enhances his reputation more than his footballing talent. Don’t ask me who he should be after though.
As for Vela it’ll be the club which offers the best guarantees of playing time that gets the Mexican on loan. The boss says ‘many, many’ clubs are interested, including some in Spain according to reports, but if the idea is to give Vela the kind of playing time that will see him come back to Arsenal then surely a Premier League club is the best option.
The boss on Aaron Ramsey and how it’ll be a couple of months before we see him back to his best.
And that’s about that. Those of you stuck in work, or those of you who just like to follow it while watching on TV, can join me for the live blog later this evening. Kick off tonight is 7.45 so we’ll have team news as soon as we get it and coverage from about 7.30 onwards. Check back later on for another blog post with all the details.
Until then, take it easy.