Arsenal's Complexion and Chances Ahead of the Manchester City Match

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Arsenal's Complexion and Chances Ahead of the Manchester City Match
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A broad smile comes to my own face at the mention of Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla in the same breath, as happens to Mikel Arteta at the mention of his countryman.

Of Cazorla, Arteta says:

When I was hearing that he might be coming I was texting him and saying, ‘Come here, because you will enjoy it’. I knew he was the type of player everyone was going to love here, and that he’d suit the team and the way we want to play. He’s a different player, the way he moves and uses the ball with both feet, his size you know ... You look at him and say, ‘Wow’. He’s special and talented.

In my last article, while wondering whether Cazorla would have been bought had Jack Wilshere not been out injured,  I celebrated the gift that Cazorla is. Wenger has sounded absolutely delighted since the Spaniard arrived at Arsenal in August.

This week a number of newspaper articles have appeared wondering whether Arsenal are not stronger with Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in the team than they were with Robin van Persie and Alex Song.

What's more, since the 2-0 victory at Liverpool at the end of August, pundits have lauded Arsenal's newfound defensive grit, which, although began manifesting last season, has become more prominent this season as exemplified in the games against Stoke City and Liverpool and in the second half against Montpellier in the Champions League.

As Arteta enthuses above about Cazorla, what is remarkable about the little man is not just his technical skill but his vision and ability to hold the ball as well.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Some have observed that he may be the replacement for the position Cesc Fabregas vacated. Cazorla was pleasantly surprised by the role he has been made to play in the team, so far.

“I came to play on the touchline, with the freedom to get inside. I was surprised when I started in pre-season as a second striker. Wenger put me directly in the playmaker position.”

This role would be the Dennis Bergkamp role I spoke about in my Jack Wilshere series—the midfield role that links the deeper midfield and the attack, which, by and large, is a supporting striking cum-creative midfield role.

Here is a player who wouldn't have fuzzed if played more on the flank with a license to cut in. But as it is, his gifts are such that he is suited quite well to his present role in the team.

Now, Arsenal have the players to trouble any side in the final third—Lukas Podolski, Gervinho, AOC, plus Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Good games for this quintet (Wenger will, of course, choose his front three men from these) will mean sufficient problem for the Manchester City defense to deal with.

 

Mikel Arteta

Just at Cazorla has been excellent for Arsenal at the tip of the midfield, so likewise has been Arteta at the base of the same. Starting out as an advance creative midfielder for Everton, Arteta reverted to the box-to-box role for Arsenal last season on joining the team.

Now, as further testimony to his powers, Arteta has taken the holding role by the scruff of its neck. Although small like Cazorla, he now commands the holding position with an authority that belies his size, equally adept at initiating attacks as in breaking them. He is, furthermore, a remarkably neat tackler.

If he struck a good understanding with Alex Song last season, his new partnership with Abou Diaby has been as equally remarkable. Against City on Sunday, one's level of anxiety must drop to the minimal with these two marshaling Arsenal's midfield.

 

Attack

Upfront, Podolski, Arsenal's disguised striker, who begins on the left flank, is enjoying a goal-scoring form, if his three goals in as many matches are anything to go by.

Like, Cazorla, it has taken the German little time to settle into the Arsenal team. According to Wenger, this can be put down to his happy disposition. (via Kevin McCarra of The Guardian)

He's a very sociable guy. He always has a smile on his face. He also has a good understanding with [the left-back] Kieran Gibbs as well. He is a clinical finisher. He scored [18] goals last season for a club [Köln] that went down. That, for me, was the [equivalent] of scoring 30 for a club that is dominating the championship. It doesn't mean he will score 30 [here] because he was a central striker at Köln. For us, he plays more on the left. He can finish, that is for sure. When he gets a chance like the other night [in Montpellier] you think it will be a goal.

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Podolski celebrating a goal.

There may, however, be another factor to this quick adjustment, which Podolski himself has put down to the style of the team. "This is the style of football that I like, we play with one or two touches."

The fact that there's another German—Per Mertesacker—in the team, one who predated Podolski by a year, much like there was another Spaniard—Mikel Arteta—in the team who predated Santi Cazorla, can't but be a positive factor in this quick adjustment.

On the opposite flank to that which Podolski is currently manning is the extremely gifted and hard-working Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Here is a young English lad with a great deal of promise stretching before him.

On this flank, Wenger can choose to play either Gervinho, a man who has reinvented himself in Arsenal's last two matches, and Theo Walcott, a player who can cause havoc in the ranks of any team when on form.

To marshal Arsenal's attack, Wenger could choose to play Giroud or Gervinho, in a reprise of his role in last week's match against Southampton.

 

Defense

In the defense, the partnership of Thomas Vermaelen and Mertesacker is growing from strength to strength, so that, so far this season, Arsenal's best central defender from last season, Laurent Koscielny, has to be content with cameo appearances from the bench.

At left-back, a few have begun to mention Kieran Gibbs in the same breath as Ashley Cole. This is a huge and positive sign. At right-back, Carl Jenkinson has acquitted himself admirably in the absence of Bacary Sagna.

This is the complexion of the Arsenal team that is to face Manchester City on Sunday.

But, what are the chances of this team?

 

Arsenal’s Chances at City

On paper, Manchester City are the stronger team. Just listen to the big names available to Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager: Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Djeko, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany.

This team has three clear advantages against Arsenal: First, it will be playing at home, and as we know, home advantage can swing the tide of a match in favor of the home team. This may not be unconnected with the fact that both teams won their home matches last season with a 1-0 scoreline.

Secondly, Manchester City are the champions, and this means they are more confident in themselves than they were last season. One can imagine that they believe the buck  now stops with them.

Thirdly, they are the stronger of the two teams, as observed above. The quality and the depth of the team are superior in comparison to Arsenal's team.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Yaya Toure, the player to watch.

But, does this means Arsenal can't win on Sunday? By no means.

Every match is unique, and the conditions in each are equally so. As observed by Roberto Mancini, victory can come from three factors: entitlement, luck or superiority.

Here is how he frames it:

It can happen that you can win the title (read, match) because you play well or because you are lucky. We deserved to win last year but the second year is always more difficult. There were a lot of teams in the past spending money for big players, including Arsenal. This is normal.

Entitlement is the product of your preparation, which in the case of Manchester City means they spent a lot of money to make it happen. He argues that the same is true of any other team, including Arsenal.

Luck is that "X-factor" that swings the unique conditions of a given match (or of a given campaign) in your favor. It can be argued, for example, that Chelsea were lucky to win the Champions League last year. Certainly, this wasn't their best team or their best performances.

Superiority (or Mancini's "playing well") can secure you victory. By this factor alone, Arsenal’s chances should be high against Manchester City. Arsenal often plays well. They haven't been outplayed by Manchester City in recent seasons.

By the index of entitlement, City should win, it'd be assumed, but that does not mean that this will be the case. By virtue of home advantage, City should win, but again, this does not mean Arsenal couldn't transcend this disadvantage.

If Arsenal play well and if the "X-factor" swings in their favor, there's no reason why they shouldn't win tomorrow. So let's hope that they do.

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