11 months on from their last meeting, Arsenal face Manchester City with the Premier League title on the line.
The winner of the Premier League won’t be decided on Monday night, but the result – and performance – may well decide whether or not Arsenal are ready to be crowned the champions of England.
Last season, when the two sides last faced each other, Arsenal won away at the Etihad Stadium. A Santi Cazorla penalty and Olivier Giroud header naturally stole the headlines after the 2-0 victory, but it was the pragmatic gameplan which turned most heads. Arsenal had approached big games, particularly away from home, with a more defensive approach in the previous year or so but never received much credit as an individual error usually undid the tactics. In Manchester last season, though, everything was perfect.
Defending in a deep block, starving David Silva of the ball and controlling the spaces City could play in, Arsenal kept a clean sheet and prevented the hosts from having any big chances. The team with a reputation for falling apart in big games delivered a huge performance to match the occasion.
Since, they have beaten Bayern Munich and Manchester United (last season) with a similar approach. This Arsenal team must believe it is capable of winning the big matches now.
Unfortunately, as this season is demonstrating, United aren’t all that, while the Bayern game was at home, as is Monday’s fixture. Manchester United also lost at the Emirates Stadium this season, with Arsenal showing fast and exciting football can break down their big rivals before putting on another solid defensive display.
We don’t know which approach will be adopted for the visit of the blue half of Manchester, but we do know that Arsenal are capable of big results. Sitting in a good position as we approach 2016, Arsenal need to demonstrate the ability to trade punches with their competitive rivals once again.
It feels like a corner has been turned, but we aren’t on the home straight yet. One loss, one bad performance, one defensive slip against a big side would have Arsenal’s mentality questioned again. Shouts from the media will inevitably be heard and the pressure on the players, the level to which they are doubted by some, would head through the roof.
But a win? A good performance? Arsenal have turned a corner, now they have to propel themselves out of it. Do that on Monday night, and I don’t think there’s anything which can stop us winning the Premier League this season.