Arsenal vs. Manchester City: Gunners Will Face First True Test at the Etihad

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:   Robin van Persie of Arsenal takes a shot at goal but it hits team mate Thomas Vermaelen in the face and goes over the bar, during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Arsenal have been on the receiving end of great amounts of credit this year. A good deal of it may be completely justified, but after playing an uncreative Sunderland, an uninspired Stoke, a struggling Liverpool and a quite dismal Southampton, the praise may be a bit too much.

In the opening three matches, the Gunners did manage to keep clean sheets, but in the first two they were fairly unchallenged, and against Liverpool Steve Bould's new-look defense could easily have conceded a couple.

And then after basking in the glee following the 6-1 win over Southampton, you come to the shocking realization that you just beat Southampton, and that revelation slightly taints the feeling, despite the offensive firepower.

If they win on Sunday against Manchester City, however, that will be something to be extremely proud of. Maybe the Citizens aren't in the same dazzling form as last year, but they are nonetheless a top-quality team.

This will be the first real test for the Gunners, who find themselves in sixth, although they have a game in hand.

Due to Szczesny's injury, Vito Mannone will start in goal again for Arsenal against Manchester City, having had a solid run so far. The back four of Gibbs, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Jenkinson will also face a fantastic attack, who have managed to win games for City, despite their shaky defense.

Arsenal fans are hoping\ Mario Balotelli won't be seeing any playing time over the weekend, because last Premier League meeting between these two, he was out of control, getting sent off at the end, though it could have happened much earlier in the match.

However, Carlos Tevez—who is, unfortunately for the Gunners, starting to find his form—will be looking to tear the back line apart, having scored three goals already. Sergio Aguero will play, but whether he will start is unclear.

I think the biggest test tomorrow will be for the midfield. Cazorla, Arteta and Diaby have all been brilliant thus far, and they will clash against a side that likes playing many players in the middle of the park.

Although Nasri is set to miss the match, City have a plethora of midfielders who could crowd the midfield. With the ever-impressive Yaya Toure, David Silva (who isn't at the top of his game), Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair, Gareth Barry and Jack Rodwell, don't be surprised if Roberto Mancini's side has a good amount of possession throughout.

Arsene Wenger will be glad that Manchester City's defense hasn't looked great so far this season, having already conceded six goals in four matches. I think Giroud should start in order to challenge balls in the air against Vincent Kompany and cause chaos for the home team—things that he does quite well.

Podolski is a favorite to score as well, but the question is how le Professeur will start up top. Will he opt for Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho, or exclude the Frenchman as he did against Southampton and go with Podolski, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain? Or will he start Theo Walcott? Wait, who?

So tomorrow will be Arsenal's first checkpoint in the 2012/13 English Premier League race, and tens of thousands of fans singing "Blue Moon" will show the Gunners' true mettle.

Will they pass their first test, or will they turn out to be a team who flunks in this exciting season?

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