A week between Arsenal games is never too enjoyable as far as I’m concerned, but it’s certainly easier to stomach when a performance is as satisfying as the one against Stoke on Sunday.
Something tells me this weekend’s visit to Manchester won’t be quite so straightforward.
It’s the first opportunity of 2015 for The Arsenal to quieten the droves of pundits and fans who can’t help but remind us of our lamentable record against the ‘big’ teams. A win at the home of the champions would surely go some way to banishing psychological frailties and any doubts the players may have.
On Thursday we learned that Arsenal would be without Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta for three months (and that’s if things go to plan). The good news is that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil are both back, though I think we’re much more likely to see the Welshman on Sunday.
Santi Cazorla has been superb of late and has negated (to some extent) what we’ve missed without our record signing. Ramsey, however, has not been replaced. Rosicky and Chamberlain have both had good games in the middle but neither offers Ramsey’s dynamism all over the pitch. He’s arguably our key player outside our own box as well having a huge impact in the final third. Özil’s brilliance can decide a game while his intelligence offers a calmness we’ve missed so much while he and Arteta have both been absent.
Possible XI: Ospina; Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Alexis; Giroud.
As for City, they’ll be without Yaya Touré and new signing Wilfried Bony – both are with the Ivory Coast squad for the African Cup of Nations. They won’t mind too much as Vincent Kompany is set to return on Sunday while Sergio Agüero already made his comeback with almost half an hour at Goodison Park last week.
The key area at the Etihad – without wanting to descend into cliché (not Gaël) – will probably be the midfield.
Agüero can score in the blink of an eye, but we now possess our own similar talent in Alexis Sánchez. Likewise City’s defence and goalkeeper – like ours – are no strangers to lapses in concentration or being caught on the break.
For my money David Silva (especially when playing so fluently with Nasri) is the most dangerous individual in the Premier League, and Arsenal will have to restrict his influence to have any hope on Sunday. Silva can’t really be shackled but Arsenal can’t afford to line up with Coquelin alone in front of the back four as he did against Stoke. Likewise I wouldn’t be too fond of pairing him with Flamini only to see Silva glide through their scything tackles. Defending in a low block with two central midfielders has served us well, especially when Mertesacker and Koscielny have been available; ley’s hope Aaron Ramsey is ready to start.
As for form, City looked unstoppable of late.
Unbeaten in 14 in all competitions; a brilliant run of form has catapulted them back into the title race, and took them into the Champions League knockout stage when that had seemed unlikely. All of that while playing without a striker for nearly a month. Lately, however, they’ve shown small signs of stuttering (perhaps I’m clutching at straws). It took an injury time goal to see off Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup before a point was all they could take from Everton last weekend. I, for one, hope Navas starts ahead of Milner – I think that’s the biggest decision Pelligrini will probably have to make about his side.
Possible XI: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho; Milner, Silva, Nasri; Agüero.
And what about The Arsenal and our form? Well, despite what some would have you think, it isn’t all doom and gloom. We’ve won 9 of our last 12 and only now have key players returning.
Alexis Sánchez has a modest 17 goals and nine assists in his first 25 games for the club (thank you, FC Barcelona) and will only now have the opportunity to strike up a partnership with our most creative player.
Since returning from injury Giroud has as been as good as ever, with slightly less frustration and Santi Cazorla’s recently enjoyed his best two months at the club since winning Player of the Season in his first year in London. With Walcott and Özil likely to be on the bench (this weekend may be too early for Welbeck to join them) we can no longer lament a lack of firepower or options in the final third, and can impact games with our subs.
Our recent record in the blue ‘half’ of Manchester isn’t all that much better than when facing the other club from up there. We haven’t beaten City in our last six games against them (April 2012) and it has been over four years since we beat them away from home, a 3-0 win against 10-men.
Since the start of last season they’ve only dropped 12 points at home and while not looking like the goalscoring machine they were when we visited them last season I struggle to see us beating them this time around. With all that said we convincingly beat them in this season’s curtain-raiser at Wembley to win the Community Shield, and the game at The Emirates back in September was one of our most promising performances earlier on in the season.
As far as Sunday’s match is concerned: here’s to some dogged defending and an Alexis Sánchez masterclass! Please.