After a trying week, Arsenal have one last chance to consider themselves a dark horse in the title race with the visit of Manchester City on Saturday evening.
A heavy defeat to Chelsea, a gut wrenching late draw against Swansea and a string of injuries to big players has raised concerns about Arsenal’s run in petering out after the season had previously looked so promising.
Manchester City meanwhile know that the league title is in their hands, with games in hand to their avail. They comfortably dismissed Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday night and have won 6 of their last 7 away matches.
It would be difficult to make Arsenal favourites for this game, but their form at the Emirates has been good this season. Pellegrini has clearly fixed City’s troubling early season away form.
Arsenal are realistically, looking over their shoulders as much as they are looking ahead. A victory would signficantly lift the mood ahead of trips to Goodison Park and Wembley.
Arsene Wenger insists his team need to start on the front foot in the bigger games, last season this fixture was effectively ended inside ten minutes with the sending off of Laurent Koscielny. It’s important for Arsenal’s confidence that they don’t fall behind early in this one. Both teams will want to defend better than they did in the reverse fixture.
Arsene Wenger was bouyant ahead of his side’s clash with Manchester City, ‘It’s all to go for I think, for everybody,’ the Frenchman told the club’s official website.
‘Everybody speaks about Everton coming back on us (and challenging for fourth place). Why should we then not come back on the teams who are in front of us?
‘There’s still a lot of turning games that will happen until the end of the season. But it’s down to the quality of our performances.
‘We don’t think about the title race now, we think about winning again. So for us just to recover in a positive way against Swansea was very important.
‘Now from that game, be positive again and win the next one.’
‘There is no other priority other than coming first,’ said Wenger. ‘That is still our target.
It is the next game that is of course very important, and the next game is of massive importance because it is Man City and they fight at the top.
‘They are the favourites with Chelsea and Liverpool, but when you play one of the favourites, you have an opportunity to shorten the distance to them.’
Arsenal were beaten 6-3 at the Etihad in December but have not lost a league game at home since the opening day of the season, and Wenger said: ‘We play at the Emirates where we show big strengths and we want to show that again.
‘There are plenty of positives to take from the game at the Etihad. But of course we must defend better.’
Manuel Pelligrini believes a win at the Emirates all but puts paid to one of City’s title rivals, but doesn’t believe it will be decisive in deciding the title’s ultimate destination.
”We started a very good week, we hope we finish in the same way,’ added Pellegrini. ‘It’s important for the players, club and fans to win the derby and we must continue to try to win the next match and try to win the title.
‘It’s a big game against Arsenal because it’s against a team that is also fighting for the title. If we win on Saturday, we can be 12 points ahead of Arsenal if we also win the two games we have in hand on them. So it’s a massive match, but not a match that will decide the title.
‘Maybe Arsenal didn’t have a good week, but they continue being a very good team. They are playing at home, they have very good players and we will need to play a good game if we want to win.’
‘For all the big teams, they must always be under pressure to win titles,’ said Pellegrini.
‘The ambition must always be to win as much as you can, every year, for every big team.’
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have no new injuries, but nobody returning either. That means Laurent Koscielny (calf), Jack Wilshere (foot), Mesut Özil (hamstring), Theo Walcott (knee), Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Nacho Monreal (foot), Abou Diaby (knee) and Ryo Miyachi (ankle) are all out.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Arteta, Podolski, Giroud, Chamberlain, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Fabianski, Sanogo, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Kallstrom, Bellerin, Gnabry.
Player to watch: Santi Cazorla
With so many kinetic, attacking players missing and with Arsenal also denied the creative talents of Mesut Özil, one would expect Cazorla to offer both goalscoring and creative threat.
It’s a big responsibility for sure, but it’s one he’s shouldered rather unconvincingly thus far in an unconvincing season by his exalted standards.
Giroud cannot continue to fight entire back fours alone as he had to for large swathes of the Swansea game. His midfielders need to get closer to him and given Cazorla’s previous goal returns, Saturday would be a good time for him to start dictating proceedings.
Manchester City Team News:
Manchester City are still without Sergio Aguero, who has been troubled by a hamstring injury all season. David Silva is expected to be fit after an ankle knock in the Manchester derby.
Matija Nastasic is still out with a knee injury.
Manchester City 9from): Hart, Richards, Kompany, Zabaleta, Lescott, Milner, Nasri, Negredo, Dzeko, Kolarov, Garcia, Navas, Rodwell, Silva, Clichy, Fernandinho, Demichelis, Pantilimon, Jovetic, Yaya Toure.
Player to watch: David Silva
Masterclasses in City’s last two away matches at Hull and Manchester United, the Spaniard makes City’s possession games tick.
He also has a penchant for picking passes that seem obvious only to he. The technical platform upon which players such as Fernandinho and Yaya Toure thrive.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal haven`t scored more than two goals at home against Manchester City since 2007.
Since the new millennium Manchester City have only managed to beat Arsenal once away from home, which was a 2-0 win in January 2013.
Since 2010 six players have been sent off in this fixture.
Arsenal`s biggest win against City was in 2000 when they won 5-0.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their 14 Premier League home games since the opening-day defeat against Aston Villa (W10, D4).
Arsene Wenger’s side have won just three of their last nine league games (W3, D3, L3).
Samir Nasri faces his old club.
Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in his last three games at the Emirates in all competitions.
Midfielder Yaya Toure has found the net 11 times in his last 14 league games.
City have scored 11 goals from corners this season – a Premier League high.
The referee will be Mike Dean. Fantastic.
Fans of optimism look away now, I think City are going to win 2-0, with Arsenal’s attacking threat decimated by injury. Silva and Dzeko with the goals.
Arsenal play away at Everton next Sunday at 1.30pm. Manchester City face Southampton at home at 12.45 next Saturday.