06 May 2016

Can Arsenal again astound the Etihad?

How the once-mighty have fallen. This one was meant to decide the Prem title. Instead, it has slipped a few rungs and will now merely split the difference between third and fourth place in a season in which one had dedicated itself to winning the Champions League and the other had, well, shot itself in the foot more than it had shot its way past opponents. While it's true that each has taken home silverware, these will feel more like tin-cup than trophy.

For us at Arsenal, we can pin some hopes to fixture-congestion and, perhaps, a bit of existential ennui Sunday's match will be City's fourth in twelve days, two of them high-tension battles with Real Madrid. Even if their 4-2 thrashing at St. Mary's came courtesy of a second-choice squad, this City squad has got to be a bit fatigued. Add to that the crestfallen feeling of having come so close to advancing to the Champions League final only to fall short, and we may very well be received by a very jaded and diffident squad, regardless of who's named. One who very likely won't be, of course, is Vincent Kompany, who limped off ten minutes into Wednesday's match. City's woes without him have become the stuff of legend.

Well, there's legend, and there's reality. Yes, City have kept more clean sheets and conceded far-fewer goals without Kompany. However, the Mangala-Otamendi pairing is far-more stable than those stats suggest. Real did score moments after Kompany limped off, but that reflects bad luck more than anything else. Bale's shot, deflected ever so slightly by Fernando, was the only difference between these two sides. Over more than three hours of football, then, City held one of the world's most-fearsome attacks to just one goal. That's quite a bit better than we can claim against Real's counterpart and rival.

Then again, we've more than held our own against City in recent clashes, having won three and drawn two in the last five since that 6-3 debacle (which flattered the hosts by more than a bit, I must say). One of our hallmarks of the last few seasons, for better or for worse, has been in our ability to play up or down to the level of our competitor. Against City, moreso than against any other rival, we've more than held our own. Against City, again, moreso than against any other rival, we've shown a sharper tactical edge and mental toughness. If we can just summon a few ounces of that same nous on Sunday, we could and very well should emerge with all three points. Hell, even a draw might be enough to secure third. Not that I like to entertain such economics, but one point could very well seal the deal; we host cellar-dwellars Aston Villa whilst City visit somewhat-more solid Swansea next week. 

At our end, we can look to the returns to fitness of Wilshere and Cazorla to bolster us. Not only would they bring fresh legs, they'd bring fresh ideas to a squad casting about for options after scoring just four goals in four matches against relegation-fodder. The insertion of one or both might be what what's needed in a squad that's limping down the stretch. I'm going with Wilshere as the one to make the difference. The absence of Kompany heightens the need for Yaya Touré to take charge, and we'll need someone chippier than Cazorla to counter him, someone who can harass and go chin-to-chest against the Ivorian and try to unsettle City's back-line. Wilshere, for better or worse, is fearless. He can both disrupt City's attack and discombobulate its defense. 

It may not be the ending we foresaw back in August, but it might be enough to position us for next season.

LAST 3
Arsenal 2-1 Man City (21.12.2015)
Man City 0-2 Arsenal (18.01.2015)
Arsenal 2-2 Man City (13.09.2014)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have scored two or more goals in five of their last six matches against Man City.
The two clubs first clashd in 1893, a 0-1 win to Woolwich Arsenal.

INJURIES
Believe it or not, it's only Per Mertesacker who's been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Gabriel, Koscielny, Bellerín; Wilshere, Elneny; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.

This is one that the visitors feel more urgently than their hosts; expect Arsenal to take the match to City and seize the win.

PREDICTION
Man City 1-2 Arsenal.