Manchester City vs. Arsenal: 6 Key Battles to Watch

Willie Gannon@https://twitter.com/WillieGannonSenior Writer ISeptember 20, 2012

Manchester City vs. Arsenal: 6 Key Battles to Watch

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    Arsenal travel to Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City this weekend with the entire football world wondering if the Gunners really have what it takes to mount a title challenge this season.

    The Gunners have been one of the better teams in the Premier League so far this season and currently sit third, unbeaten and having scored eight goals and having conceded just one, whereas Manchester City have played poorly and have stuttered to recent results against Liverpool and Stoke City.

    However, and it must be said, both teams currently have the same amount of points, are both unbeaten and this game will go a long way to determining both teams' credentials as title challengers.

    Arsene Wenger's side are on the crest of a wave having won in Montpellier in the Champions League on Tuesday night as Manchester City snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by conceding two late goals to lose against Real Madrid.

    So as we head towards the Etihad Stadium all the momentum is with the North London side with Roberto Mancini in the unusual place of needing to motivate his team to get them back on track.

    Here we look at six key battles for Manchester City vs. Arsenal.

    Read on and leave your comments and thoughts on the game in the section below.

Body and Mind vs. Spirit and Soul

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    At this very moment in time Arsenal and Manchester City are only separated by goal difference as far as the Premier League table is concerned.

    However, the truth behind that little picture could not be more different.

    So far this season both teams have won twice and drawn twice with Arsenal having kept three clean-sheets on the way to a goal difference of plus-seven.

    City, on the other hand, have yet to keep a clean-sheet across six games, including the Community Shield and Champions League match against Real Madrid, and have conceded an amazing 11 goals so far this season.

    To put that total into context one only has to realise that across the entire 38 games in the Premier League last season that City only conceded 29 goals all together.

    Something therefore is very rotten in the state of Manchester.

    The current form guide reads as;

    Manchester City - LDWDWW

    Arsenal - WWWDDW

    City having only claimed one victory from their last four games are currently suffering a loss of morale while Arsenal will be going into this game feeling "Invincible."

    Roberto Mancini has a lot of work to do to pick his team up and if he does not his team could pay the price against an Arsenal side that breathe confidence as much as oxygen.

Olivier Giroud vs. Olivier Giroud

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    Olivier Giroud in under pressure. But it is mainly from himself.

    The £13 million signing from Montpellier was brought in to add height, physicality and panache to the Arsenal strike-force following the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United this summer.

    So far in five games, including one in the Champions League against his old club, he has failed to hit the back of the net.

    Last weekend for the visit of Southampton to the Emirates, who are arguably the worst side in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger dropped the French star to the bench in an effort at easing the pressure he is under to score.

    After the game Arsene Wenger explained why he had dropped Giroud to the waiting press;

    “I felt he was under a lot of pressure at the moment and sometimes it’s good to get a little breather.

    “I honestly don’t know what I will do against Montpellier in the Champions League this week.

    “I just felt the time had come for him to not be under so much pressure.”

    The fact that Wenger is speaking about trying to relieve this growing pressure after just five game speaks volumes about Giroud and how is he coping with playing for a club like Arsenal as opposed to Montpellier where realistically every game was a bonus.

    If the striker wants to get the monkey off his back he will have to learn how to deal with the pressure of expectation and playing for a club like Arsenal at the same time because the Gunners' title challenge simply can't wait for players to get up to speed.

    He will need to talk to the many sports psychologists the club have on their books to get over this problem patch, but before he does he may want to check the record books.

    Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal in 1999 and did not score in his first nine games for Arsenal and ended up finishing the season with 31 goals from 57 appearances for club and country.

    He also broke one or two records that Gunners' fans may still remember.

Vincent Kompany vs. Lukas Podolski

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    If there are two players who personify each teams current form it is Lukas Podolski and Vincent Kompany.

    Podolski, Arsenal's £11 million capture from Cologne, has hit the ground running.

    The 101 times capped German international has scored three goals in five games so far but it is his adaption to the Gunners' style of play that marks him out as a player of some reckoning.

    Unlike Olivier Giroud, Podolski has made himself such a part of the Arsenal team that it is now almost impossible to imagine the starting XI without him and unlike other players he is extremely flexible to his managers plans and will gladly sacrifice his own game to better the team.

    So far this season he has been deployed on the left side of a 4-3-3 and through the centre of the same formation and at times against Montpellier he played as a drifting centre forward as the Gunners re-shuffled to a 4-4-1-1 set-up.

    In each and every case Podolski has been exceptional and Steve Bould was gushing in his praise for the German striker following Arsenal's win over Montpellier. "Podolski has made a real impact," he said before adding "I've not seen many finishers as good as him—ever."

    The same cannot be said about Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.

    Last year the highly regarded Belgian defender was arguably the beat defender in the Premier League if not Europe.

    He was superb in leading City to the title and stood tall and carried his team mates through hell and back in April when it looked like the title was heading to bitter City rivals Manchester United.

    Deservedly he lifted the Premier League trophy in May but if current form is anything to go by it looks like Kompany has let his game drop a couple of levels having won the title.

    He has been relatively poor in a Manchester City team that are struggling for form and being misled from the sidelines and he made, perhaps, the biggest mistake of his career against Real Madrid midweek.

    Cristiano Ronaldo was allowed turn inside by Kolorov with the clock ticking down and with little other option available the Portuguese lashed the ball straight at Kompany's chest only for the defender to duck out of the way which completely caught Joe Hart, in goal, unaware as the ball bounced into the net.

    It was a terrible goal to give away and is almost indicative of the mistakes that City have been making this year.

    If they have any ambition of beating Arsenal, Kompany will have to raise his game to the levels of last season and keep Lukas Podolski quiet.

    Easier said than done given the current form of each player.

Yaya Toure vs. Abou Diaby

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    To say that Yaya Toure is a beast of a player would be something of an understatement.

    The man is a god amongst men, a colossus amongst footballers and a giant amongst Manchester City players because he is that good.

    Since joining City from Barcelona for £24 million in 2010 he has cemented his place as one of the top midfielders in Europe.

    For Barca he was primarily utilised in a defensive midfield role where he would drop back in between the two central defenders to make a back-line of three as the two full backs pushed on. In that role he covered the ground between the defence and midfield and only provided glimpses of his potential as an attacking midfielder.

    Seeing that hidden strength Roberto Mancini immediately pushed the Ivorian further forward and instructed him to launch attacks through penetrative runs from deep positions and to support the attack with late runs from the middle.

    Having seen Toure play for La Blaugrana for years as a strictly defensive player this new marauding style caught everybody unawares. Given his form over the last two seasons it now comes as little surprise to see the Ivorian named by many as City's best player.

    This weekend he will be going into direct combat against Abou Diaby who is in many ways a poor man's version of the supreme Toure.

    Diaby has a very similar skill-set to his Manchester City counterpart but is a notch or two below in terms of ability.

    On his day though he is more than capable of eclipsing the City man and if Arsenal want to win the midfield battle they will have to nullify the Ivorian with Diaby playing a vital role in that particular tactical battle.

Carlos Tevez vs. Thomas Vermaelen

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    The one area of the pitch where Manchester City have been lethal this season is up-front and that is all down to one man: Carlos Tevez.

    The Argentinian striker has been lethal this season with four goals in his first four games and only drawing blank in his last two matches against Real Madrid and Stoke City.

    But it is the manner of his performances which have really stood out for many.

    When Tevez's self-inflicted exile ended on March 21 this year few thought he would make such an impact on Manchester City's title run-in having missed almost six months of the season.

    Ironically he turned out to be the Citizens' most important player and put in substantial performances that lifted the team through the dark days of dropped points and stupid Mario Balotelli red cards.

    Now, having gone through a fantastic preseason, Tevez is firing on all cylinders and is arguably the best player the Premier League has seen so far this season.

    Arsenal will have to be more than wary of the threat he carries particularly as Sergio Aguero is expected to return from injury to partner his fellow countryman at some stage during the game.

    The task of keeping Tevez quiet will go to Thomas Vermaelan.

    The Belgian defender, recently made the Gunners captain following Robin van Persie's departure to Manchester United, is easily the heart and soul of Arsene Wenger's team and provides all the defensive organisation from the centre of defence.

    He is quick over short distances, reads the game superbly, and is a good man-marker but he can be lured into making rash decisions and is therefore prone to giving away free kicks in dangerous positions and penalties.

    In the past he has struggled with injuries and has yet to play two full seasons in a row since joining in 2009. And like Tevez he too has enjoyed a superb preseason that has also set him up to be one of the leagues top performers this year.

    So when these two players, with so much to prove to everyone, clash their battle will realistically determine the very destiny of the points at hand.

Roberto Mancini vs. Roberto Mancini

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    Make no mistake about it; Roberto Mancini did very well to win the title with Manchester City last season and was deservedly hailed as one of the best managers in England.

    This season most people thought that all City needed to do was to make minor changes and add to the quality in the team.

    That did not happen in the summer though. The top class signings, like Arsenal and Spurs contract-rebels Robin van Persie and Luka Modric, did not appear and from a position of great strength the Citizens were seemingly pegged back by their rivals who all strengthened significantly.

    The lack of summer signings at City became a major plotline as stories of a bust-up between Mancini and, Director of football, Brian Marwood began to emerge and as the season began the Italian was talking more about tactical changes to his team than in new arrivals.

    With that in mind we can see now that the champion Mancini of the 2012/13 season is more reminiscent of the Mancini from 2010/11 than of last season.

    This term the Italian has reverted to type and is cautious before adventurous. Take City's two worst performances this season against Liverpool and Real Madrid as perfect examples.

    Last year, on the way to winning the title, City used a variation of a 4-4-2 formation in almost every single game.

    This year in just six games he has already changed his system three times in an effort at combating the opposition instead of playing to his own team's superb strengths.

    Against Liverpool, City used a 3-5-2 formation that completely gave midfield away and was ripped apart on the flanks.

    While against Real Madrid in the Champions League he utilised a narrow variant of the 4-3-3 formation that exposed his full-backs, and specifically the unfit Maicon, to Madrid's rapid attacks.

    On both occasions his star players of Joe Hart and Yaya Toure rose to the occasion but if he keeps tinkering even these great players will eventually run out of steam as their tactics are used against them.

    This weekend Roberto Mancini welcomes Arsene Wenger and an extremely swift counter-attacking Arsenal team to the Etihad.

    If he chooses a narrow formation like he did against Madrid or a static formation like he did against Liverpool, City will be ripped apart.

    In this regard Roberto Mancini's biggest enemy as he heads into his first crunch game of the season is himself.

    He needs to rediscover the adventurous Mancini of last season and unless he does City will win nothing this year, starting with the game against Arsenal.