It’s Man City v Arsenal today, the as yet unbeaten league leaders against a Gunners side who have yet to fully convince. While every game is difficult, this could be viewed as the first real test since our trip to Stamford Bridge back in September.
That came after the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool, and it meant questions about our approach in big games away from home were raised yet again. That day there was no Mesut Ozil, the German didn’t make the squad and his place in the side went to Alex Iwobi who put in a hard-working, disciplined performance as we secured a 0-0 win.
It wasn’t the greatest game, but after what had come before it was certainly an improvement and perhaps there was the a hint that this could be an effective approach for the future.
Now we face a similar task and Arsene Wenger has a decision to make, to play Ozil or not. I’m sure it’s something he’s been thinking about but I’d very very surprised if he didn’t. He more or less confirmed his selection as he extolled his virtues and influence before the game, saying:
Ozil is in very good shape physically. People speak now only about Sanchez but, for us, Ozil’s performance on Sunday will be important as well. He will have to contribute a lot to the way we play. He can be an asset every time we attack because he creates chances.
I guess he looked at what we did against Everton, with that dynamic, fluent front three and the eight chances Ozil created and wants to try and replicate that again. The difference, of course, is that Everton are rubbish and Manchester City really aren’t. They are an exceptional side and one which will cause us more problems than Everton and won’t allow us to enjoy anywhere near the same amount of possession.
The big question is our approach, something else the manager spoke about. His words might cause a flutter or two, but what he says is understandable:
We will not hide. When we go there, we want to defend well but you cannot go there and only be focused on just defending. We want as well to play, have the ball and create dangerous situations. The best way to defend sometimes is to attack.
When you want to play football, you have to accept the risk and you have to play.
It’s not all out attack, but nor does it speak to the more defensive way we played against Chelsea. You have to ask yourself though, if Arsenal went to Man City primarily focused on defending, could they last the 90 minutes against a team with such potency and creativity? I don’t think this particular Arsenal side is good enough defensively to do that.
Then you look at a City side that has conceded twice to Napoli and twice to West Brom in the space of a week, and if there is a weakness it’s at the back. If Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette can click the way they did against Everton then we have what it takes to cause them problems. It’s how we balance our game that will be most important.
I know some view Ozil as a defensive weakness and it’s certainly not the strongest part of his game, but does playing someone like Iwobi make us that much defensively stronger that we can live without what Ozil can give us in the final third? I don’t see Iwobi as being the key to stopping this City team from scoring, so let’s go with the man who might hurt them at the other end.
Being willing to have a go when we’ve got the ball is one thing though, making sure we’re not caught out stupidly is another. That has been known to happen, and I harbour some concerns that they might find space through the centre of our midfield. Against Chelsea Aaron Ramsey stayed really close to Granit Xhaka, and that provided a measure of security that wasn’t there against Liverpool.
If he stays disciplined in terms of his position, he’s got the stamina and the engine to make life more difficult for City. But if we leave spaces they have the ability to carve us open and punish us. But you just need to look at how many City players can score and how many make assists to know that the threats come from all over, and that kind of defensive discipline has got to come from every Arsenal player.
My heart, my stupid optimistic heart, tells me that we’ve got enough firepower to get something from the game, but my head is not on board with that one today. It tells me that we struggle in these games too often, and that today’s opposition are just too strong for a team which makes too many mistakes at the back.
It’s one of those games where we can take a true measure of where we are versus where we want to be. Routine wins, and the odd blip, against mid-table opposition are one thing, but today will tell us whether or not we can mix it with the best teams in this league. I hope we can.
We’ll have the report, ratings etc on Arseblog News later on. I’m off out into the Sydney rain!