Arsenal: How the Gunners Can Beat Manchester City This Weekend
This is a fixture that has been relatively kind to Arsenal recently, especially at home.
Last season, with the stakes incredibly high for both teams, the Gunners matched up with City man for man, despite the gigantic gap between the opposing players' salaries.
After Mario Balotelli pulled a Mario Balotelli and got himself sent off, Mikel Arteta struck late to bring Arsenal one step closer to Champions League qualification and seemingly sink Manchester City's title challenge.
The year before, fans witnessed one of the dullest Premier League matches in recent memory, as both sides—but especially Roberto Mancini's Sky Blues—dug in defensively and ground their way to a 0-0 draw.
A paucity of goals has been a common theme when Manchester City have come to visit the Emirates in recent seasons: In the two teams' last three meetings in North London, there has been only one single goal—the aforementioned Arteta strike.
In fact, City have not scored a Premier League goal at the Emirates Stadium since DaMarcus Beasley bagged a consolation goal in April 2007.
Obviously, the Citizens are much changed these days, but there are nevertheless few reasons why they have struggled so mightily in Arsenal's home.
Presumably, they will not have quite the same difficulties this time around. Despite getting an uncommon week of rest, the Gunners are a mentally and physically weary side, with several players whose excessive game time has caused dips in form.
But City aren't at full strength, either.
Yaya Toure, arguably the team's most valuable player because of his dynamic, adhesive presence in midfield, has gone to participate in the African Cup of Nations. Sergio Aguero will be out for several weeks with a hamstring tear.
And what's more, star goalkeeper Joe Hart is mired in a run of terrible form.
Still, Roberto Mancini can field a side that is eminently capable of winning the Premier League. Here is a potential starting XI in a 4-2-3-1 formation (h/t Karl Matchett for the template):
Where are the major danger areas for Arsenal? Let's take a look.
There is a 50-50 chance that Olivier Giroud will not play because of a gash suffered against Swansea last weekend. That means all 5'9" of Theo Walcott will likely start at striker against one of the most physical center-back duos in England.
Vincent Kompany can outmuscle almost any forward in the world, and 19-year-old starlet Matija Nastasic has proven himself both physically and mentally mature beyond his years.
For Walcott to have a successful day up front—and therefore for Arsenal to have a better chance of scoring—he will have to use more guile than grit. Drawing one of the center-backs out of position, for example, and intelligently exploiting the resulting gaps with his speed is probably the best option.
While Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez are obviously dangerous up front, the real danger man that will worry Arsenal's defense is David Silva.
He is the maestro—the man who makes it all tick, who orchestrates play and who singlehandedly can shred a back line.
Positional awareness is key when dealing with Silva. As Michael Cox stated in a recent piece for ESPN FC, the Spaniard loves to create havoc by drifting inside and out, creating his own space and using a silky touch to thread balls through to the strikers.
A player like Thomas Vermaelen, who is frequently caught out in places he should not be (in the opponent's half of the pitch, for example) must develop the discipline to hold his line and prevent Silva from finding the modicum of space he needs to create a goalscoring chance.
As for Arsenal, this is a reasonable starting XI:
In this formation, neither Santi Cazorla nor Jack Wilshere are true attacking midfielders like David Silva is. Rather, both can fluidly switch roles as central midfielders or attacking midfielders to suit the situation.
I might start with Carl Jenkinson at right back in place of the tired and suddenly error-prone Bacary Sagna, but Arsene Wenger will almost assuredly err on the side of caution against elite competition.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should reclaim his place in the starting lineup with no competition from Gervinho, who's at the African Cup of Nations, and Thomas Vermaelen will be well rested and ready to return to action after sitting out Arsenal's match against Swansea last weekend.
And then there's Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has caught his share of flak from Arsenal fans this season, especially when playing in an unnatural position on the left wing.
But Arsene Wenger, as we have seen this season and last (with Yossi Benayoun), loves to play a more central player on the wing for matches against teams that challenge Arsenal for possession.
He did so with Ramsey when the Gunners played Manchester City in September, and, while I would opt for Lukas Podolski on the left wing, the theory is that Ramsey will help Arsenal retain more of the ball and settle a hectic game down.
Essentially, though, all the tactical analysis boils down to two main objectives for the Gunners: Beat the press and stay tight at the back.
Often, when teams like Swansea determinedly press Arsenal on and off the ball—in all areas of the pitch—the Gunners struggle mightily to create chances and get out of their own way.
And while they started the season so well defensively, Arsenal's leaky back four has conceded some frustratingly sloppy goals in recent matches, which cost them valuable points.
We know that Arsenal, on their day, are capable of beating Manchester City. The problem is that they inconsistently put together the polished product.
If everyone plays up to their capability and works to accomplish these two crucial goals, Arsenal fans might actually feel that their tickets were worth £62.
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