Picking the Strongest Possible Arsenal XI to Take on Manchester City

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2013

Picking the Strongest Possible Arsenal XI to Take on Manchester City

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    When these two sides met at the Etihad Stadium back in September, Arsenal's season looked entirely different. They were unbeaten and coming in to the game on the back of impressive victories against Liverpool, Southampton, and Montpellier.

    They took plenty of their credit from their draw with Manchester City too. Laurent Koscielny's late equaliser was more than deserved, and its dramatic nature made it feel more like a winner. Arsenal, briefly, felt like title contenders.

    Now, however, the situation has shifted. The gap between the sides is 11 points, but the chasm between their aims for the season seems far greater. While City are part of a two-horse title race, Arsenal are locked in a battle with Everton and Tottenham just to try and make the top four.

    Over the next few slides we take a look at the XI most likely to close that gap, and allow Arsenal to beat Manchester City.

Defence

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    In September, it was Vito Mannone between the sticks for Arsenal. Since then, Wojciech Szczesny has returned and reclaimed his spot. Despite some defensive troubles in recent weeks, Szczesny's form remains consistent, and there is no chance of him being displaced for such an important game.

    The full-backs pick themselves too. Kieran Gibbs was outstanding at Swansea and the obvious choice on the left. Bacary Sagna had a trickier time of it at the Liberty Stadium, but his experience will be essential against Manchester City.

    It's at centre-back where Arsene Wenger is faced with a genuine selection dilemma. After a rest last weekend, skipper Thomas Vermaelen is guaranteed to start. Alongside him, however, Wenger must choose between Laurent Koscielny, hero of the last meeting between these two clubs, and Per Mertesacker.

    It is a battle I expect the big German to win. Arsenal's best defensive performances this season have generally featured Mertesacker, and his partnership with Vermaelen will most likely be entrusted to keep out the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.

Midfield

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    Arsenal's midfield selection is becoming very predictable these days. When fit, the trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are hard to displace.

    It's easy to understand why. All three have superb technical ability, and should be able to out-pass any team in the English Premier League. Manchester City will be without their key man in midfield, Yaya Toure, so it's an area in which Arsenal will hope to wrestle control of the game.

    Intriguingly, this match could mark the return to the first team squad of one Abou Diaby. Diaby was outstanding at Eastlands back in September, but just a few weeks later he picked up a thigh strain that has kept him out for three months. He's now back in training, and while it is certainly too soon for him to start a game, I wouldn't be surprised to see him appear on the bench.

Attack

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    The main reason Arsenal failed to win in their last match against Manchester City was the profligacy of Gervinho. The Ivorian was selected at centre-forward for the game after scoring three goals in the preceding two matches.

    He failed to replicate that form against City, missing a succession of chances. Arsenal fans will not be too distraught that he is unavailable for this game, having departed for the African Cup of Nations.

    In his stead, I think Theo Walcott will be handed another start in the central role he craves. Like Gervinho, he is a mobile striker who will give City problems. Hopefully, once he arrives in dangerous positions, he will show superior finishing to his absent teammate.

    After a game-turning cameo at Swansea, Lukas Podolski will surely play from the left. The German now has 10 goals this season, which is no mean feat for a player halfway through his first season in English football.

    The final decision facing Arsene Wenger is who to play on the right side of the attack. Although he is much maligned by Gunners fans, I'd be tempted to opt for Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman played the same role in the draw at the Etihad, and was very effective too. After a solid display on the left at Swansea, I think Ramsey could well be asked to switch flank for this clash at the Emirates.

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    What do you think? Who would you select to face City? Let us know below.