Emirates Stadium, London
March 29, 2014; 17:30 BST
Arsenal host Manchester City in what was once being looked upon as a major humdinger and title deciding cliffhanger. Most of that still remains true but only and purely for the away side who are gathering momentum ahead of a tricky run-in. Arsenal meanwhile have dropped from title contenders to 4th place favourites and will be hoping to preserve their unbeaten streak at home in the league since the opening day
Arsenal’s form has been woeful in the month of March and despite playing in front of their own fans will start as underdogs. With Everton and Spurs 6 and 7 points behind with a game in hand here and there, the Gunners hardly have any room to breathe. The Sky Blues from Manchester have higher goals to reach and bigger fish to fry and come in to this game buoyed by 3 straight wins since their double cup debacle. With 2 games in hand and only the league to focus on, Pellegrini’s side would be hoping to keep up their winning momentum in the Chielean’s bid to win the league in his first season in charge becoming the first manager to do so since Mourinho won the trophy back in 2005. Arsene Wenger on his part looks to be under enormous pressure to take the Gunners out of this rut and will need something special from his players if they are to take anything from the game
Team news and tactics
Injuries and Arsenal Football Club are synonymous and this season is no different. Arsenal have been without Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott and Wilshere for most of their recent crunch games and the toll such major injuries have on the side are is more than visible. To add to their misery now Laurent Koscielny is expected to be out for another fortnight or more. Not much has changed on the injury front that way except for Kallstrom who is now fully fit though his match fitness remains under doubt having not played a single minute since his move to London.
With confidence at rock bottom and such a limited set of players to choose from, it will be no surprise to see fatigue creeping into the Gunners both mentally and physically. The manager will have his hands full in trying to raise the team morale and make the team believe in themselves once again. Apart from that Wenger himself needs to get his tactics right with Arsenal being abysmal in most of the big teams this season and not everyone of them was merely an accident.
With an injury depleted side to pick from, the starting eleven will again mostly choose itself. There aren’t many changes expected from the team that drew vs Swansea. Podolski’s impressive cameo on Tuesday night might earn him a starting spot in place of Oxlade Chamberlain who has looked out of sorts in the past 2 matches for obvious reasons and a rest might reinvigorate him. A front 4 of Cazorla Podolski Rosicky and Giroud is strong enough on paper but the attack has lacked cohesion for sometime now and has often been berated for the lack of any willing runners either from deep or down the flanks. Gibbs and Podolski combined well on Tuesday after the latter’s substitution and Wenger would be looking to blossom the partnership on Saturday as well trying to get in behind City down their right hand side. The midfield battle might cost Arsenal however with 2 powerhouses in Fernandinho and Yaya Toure facing Arteta and Flamini who have looked bypassable to say the least. An extra bit of protection from Cazorla and Rosicky will be key to decide which side the needle swings eventually.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny(GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini; Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski; Giroud
Manchester City aren’t devoid of injury problems themselves with Sergio Aguero being one of the most frequent visitors to the treatment table. The Argentine is regaining his fitness but will be short of the Saturday night match against the Gunners. Nastasic and Richards remain out while Jovetic returns and will mostly feature on the bench. Other than that there are no fresh injury concerns with Dzeko’s illness being misreported earlier.
Pellegrini’s men gave a good account of their title credentials in the Manchester derby and Edin Dzeko played a central part in the win and will naturally get the nod for a start on Saturday evening. Negredo’s poor run of form and Jovetic’s recurrent injuries means Dzeko has a real good chance to seal his place by the time Aguero returns. The rest of the side will probably remain unchanged with Nasri Silva Navas starting in attacking midfield positions behind the Bosnian. Those 3 will keep the Arsenal backline on their toes and if in top gear might turn up to embarrass the Gunners who have looked clueless against sides that press high up with pace and players with quick feet.
Fernandinho and Yaya Toure will form the City pivot and with Toure scoring for fun this season, Arteta and Flamini will need to stop him in his advances and break play as often as possible. The only weak spot in the Man city side is in central defence but with Giroud leading the Arsenal line and not much pace expected in the starting eleven, there shouldn’t be any cause for concern.
Zabaleta-Navas have been destructive in the past and this could be another such opportunity for the duo who like to run at the defence from the wings. With Podolski not the best at shoring and assisting the left back, this is the area of the pitch that might see the best chances being created from, both for Arsenal and City.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Hart (GK); Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Clichy; Yaya Toure, Fernandinho; Nasri, Silva, Navas; Dzeko
Players to watch-out for: Yaya Toure (Man City), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Man City