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How do you stop a team unbeaten in all competitions that has scored 49 goals along the way?
That’s the conundrum Arsene Wenger faces on Sunday, as his side gear up for yet another big away day in the Premier League. Even against a team as in-form as City, Wenger is unlikely to go “full Mourinho” so what will he do?
In recent years, these types of games have gone horribly wrong. Arsenal have lost nine and drawn seven of their last 17 trips to the so-called Big Six in the Premier League.
Their one win? A 2-0 victory over Manchester City in January 2015.
When it comes to games against the big sides, City are a bit of an exception to the rule. Arsenal have lost just once to them in their last nine games in all competitions. That defeat came last season, when second half goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling helped cancel out Theo Walcott’s early strike.
Besides that, it’s been four Arsenal wins and four draws.
Unfortunately, history isn’t going to step onto the pitch and keep out the likes of Sterling, Sane, De Bruyne and Aguero. This is a game where it would be tempting to set-up ranks and devote all our resources to spoiling the game and keeping City out. Wenger could take a page out of Jose Mourinho’s playbook, accept that his team can’t compete with City at their own game and hope they make mistakes that can be pounced on.
It’s been known to happen on occasion.
Unlike a Mourinho team, though, Arsenal aren’t as well-drilled or dedicated to killing the spectacle. To sit deep and try to keep City out is just asking to be walloped by four goals or more.
Wenger will likely look for something a little more balanced.
A strong defence is key for his side, but he won’t want them to neglect the attack, either. His team found that balance in the FA Cup semi-final last season, and will hope they can repeat the trick at the Etihad on Sunday.
There will be much interest in who he selects to carry out that plan.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil both played in that semi-final, but their contributions in big games have come under heavy criticism. There could be another surprise start for Alex Iwobi, who was left out of the squad for the Europa League tie against Red Star Belgrade.
The Nigerian international did a good job against Chelsea, and may find himself playing a similar role.
The rest of the team should be as expected, with Petr Cech returning in goal, protected by the usual back five of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac. Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette are also expected to return.
As for the hosts, their only absentees are Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany.
All their other star names and in form players are fit and healthy. So, fingers crossed that the Napoli game on Wednesday took a lot out of them, and they won’t be at their free-flowing best.
That seems the only way that Arsenal can get something from this game.
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