The reverse match at the Etihad was by far our best performance of the season. While we only managed to secure the equaliser almost at the end of the match, we were nevertheless the better team in the match and should have won it. That match came in the 3rd league match of the season. We hit the peak and valley from then until now but none quite hit the heights of that particular day. If we are able to replicate the performance that we showed that day, we might just be the one with all 3 points come the end of this match.
That performance was like everything to fruition. Our workrate was good and we were relentless in our pressing. Two of the more derided players in our squad were among those that shone that day. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey split opinions like no other, even from within our own fan-base but both produced a performance worthy of Arsenal on that day. The former won’t be available while the latter is only likely to be on the bench. The others will have to step up this time around.
The bigger name players in the squad like Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere will have to step up. They, together with Mikel Arteta, have not had the best of weeks lately. They still managed to keep things tidy in the middle of the park but seemed to have lost that bit of extra that cuts open defences. Cazorla is adapting to the game in England and playing over the festive period for the first time in his career could have an impact. Hopefully his maturity and experience would allow him to rediscover the quality he has shown since the move from Malaga. As for Wilshere, the continuous matches does not make for good reading (due to his previous long absence) and he could be feeling some effect in his body.
They, will however face a much easier proposition than what City would normally be able to offer. Roberto Mancini’s men will be without the service of influential, Yaya Toure. The Ivorian, just like Gervinho, is away on international duty. A fact that no Gooner will be lamenting. Toure is a beast, the enormously talented and incredibly all-round type. Without his massive presence in midfield, we’ve got the upper hand. Javi Garcia, Gareth Barry and James Milner looks likely to be the trio in midfield for City and that are a group which we should dominate over.
The advantage is less clear in other match-ups on the pitch. We’ve made plenty defensive mistakes in the last few games and although it’s not entirely only the fault of the defence, it remains to be seen who Arsene Wenger selects as his starting pairing at centre back. Per Mertesacker had a storming start to the season but have looked a different player lately. Thomas Vermaelen should play as he’s the captain but the Belgian is the only centre back who has not shone over his other defensive partners. In Laurent Koscielny, we have the only centre back who’s relatively better form. The captain will not get my pick ahead of this match.
The reason is simple. Mancini is unlikely to start with Mario Balotelli and with Sergio Aguero out injured, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez looks the likeliest of starters. Each striker brings their own characteristics to the match and could be negated better with Mertesacker and Koscielny respectively, up against them. Arteta will have to ensure that whoever gets pick, they will get the help they need. Especially when we still have to consider the impact of David Silva roaming around the pitch.
At the other end of the pitch, because Vincent Kompany will be marshalling City’s defence, it would be better for us to start with Olivier Giroud. Provided the Frenchman is fit enough to play. That’s because Theo Walcott would struggle against the physicality of Kompany and most likely, Matija Nastasic. Plus, what Giroud has shown is his cleverness in getting others into the game and the ability to offer himself up for the pass. Just that this time (if Giroud does start), we could at least look to supply him with more crosses and not do it at all, if Walcott plays centrally.
We have to take advantage of the two teams above us, dropping points. Everton and Spurs could only manage draws in their respective matches and this is our chance to eat into the point difference. Thus far, the manager has not got in extra help for the team and it’s up to them to show that they can still perform even if no additional players have been added to the squad. Like everyone else, I’m sure they are not oblivious to the fact that there’s an important FA Cup replay match in midweek but the concentration should solely be about this game.
We might not be able to completely bridge the gap to City nor Manchester United but we have to narrow it down. If the players come out with the same attitude that guided them in the 1-1 draw at Etihad, then I think we’ll be in for some treat. Here’s to hoping.
Up The Arsenal.