Since the respective financial rise and fall of Manchester City and Liverpool, the fixture involving Arsenal and the blue half of Manchester has effectively replaced that of the red half of Liverpool. Much as we despise the manner in which their rise has come about the fact is that City are now title contenders and Liverpool, currently sitting second from the bottom and with administrative problems the envy of no club in Europe, are not.
In short, the importance of tomorrow’s game cannot be overstated. Over the past two seasons this group of players has struggled to make an impact in the big games. Although the recent trip to Stamford Bridge showed an improvement in the quality of our performance it ultimately counted for nothing – Chelsea scored twice and took the three points. The same outcome would be potentially disastrous tomorrow.
Last season Manchester City dealt our team a huge psychological blow in their 4-2 victory at the City of Manchester stadium. To lose was bad enough but the fact that Emmanuel Adebayor scored and sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal supporters took things up a notch. That he viciously stamped on Robin van Persie earlier in the game, an act that drew blood and saw Adebayor suspended for four games, should not be forgotten by Arsenal supporters.
Tactically speaking, I expect City to sit back in the same manner that they did at home to Chelsea, looking to use the counter-attack to exploit space left by our team pushing forward. Carlos Tevez is key to their attacking strategy although it remains to be seen where his support will come from: David Silva has been in good form and scored a beautiful goal from the substitutes bench against Blackpool, while Adebayor himself is coming off a midweek European hat-trick.
Although City have already beaten Chelsea this season and sit ahead of us on the table, our boys should not enter this game with any fear. They have a decent base at the back and quality individual players higher up the pitch, but recent games against Blackpool and Newcastle have revealed them to be anything but the finished product. Last weekend, in particular, Blackpool caused City no end of trouble and if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Joe Hart and some last-gasp defending, a 3-1 win could easily have ended as a defeat.
Despite our seemingly endless injury problems the Arsenal team that will start tomorrow will be exceptionally strong. None of the expected front five of Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Cesc Fabregas played 90 minutes against Shakhtar midweek, a huge bonus. While Jack Wilshere’s absence will be felt, with Alex Song providing cover for the tough-tackling Fabregas and Diaby, who I expect to spend most of the game playing higher up the pitch behind Chamakh, we have the midfield resources to match City’s three defensive midfielder policy.
Defensively we also look secure. Those who can look past the injury problems to Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny will notice that Lukasz Fabianski, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci have played together in three of the last four games, a welcome change to the usual chopping and changing that goes on at the back. Gael Clichy will likely start while the only question mark remains over the right-back position: will it be Emmanuel Eboue or the newly-returned Bacary Sagna?
We are sure to get a lot of the ball tomorrow but at the end of the day what matters is what we do with it. We let Chelsea off the hook with some poor early finishing and this simply must not happen again tomorrow. They will get opportunities too – they are a good side, after all – but with Fabregas back and our recent continuity at the back I fancy us to go to the City of Manchester and nick the points.
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