How Manchester City Will Line Up Against Arsenal
Manchester City’s stunning victory over the European champions in Munich on Tuesday night might well have given Manuel Pellegrini food for thought ahead of Saturday’s big Premier League clash against Arsenal.
As always though, the Chilean boss has a vast array of options to choose from ahead of the home meeting with the league leaders in a contest that would see City move to within three points of the Gunners with a win.
After being left out of the starting line-up for the draw with Southampton in City’s most recent league match, the likes of James Milner and David Silva impressed as the visitors came from two goals down to beat Bayern Munich 3-2―a victory that deserves to be celebrated despite Pellegrini apparently being unaware that a 4-2 win would have ensured that City finished top of Group D.
But have Milner, Silva and others done enough to ensure a place in the starting XI at the weekend?
Ahead of what has to be considered a huge game for City’s title ambitions―three points off top spot is a lot better than nine, after all―here is how Pellegrini might play things on Saturday.
Joe Hart may have started the last two Champions League games, but Pantilimon still holds the goalkeeper’s shirt for domestic matters.
The Romanian kept a clean sheet on all three of his Etihad Stadium league appearances so far this season, but this meeting with the division’s leaders will undoubtedly be his toughest test following previous assignments against Norwich, a shot-shy Tottenham and Swansea.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hart return to claim his previously unchallenged No. 1 spot soon―perhaps over the busy programme of festive fixtures―but right now Pantilimon is Pellegrini’s man, and looks like continuing here.
An early replacement for the undoubtedly disappointed Micah Richards in Munich, Zabaleta will once again return to his starting berth and can surely be relied upon to be as consistent as ever.
Recent assists for a Samir Nasri strike against Swansea and Sergio Aguero’s goal at West Brom show that the Argentina international is still getting forward as much as ever, and the right-back will be a crucial attacking force in a contest which is likely to be very open.
Pellegrini knows that his fellow South American won’t let him down.
Still returning to full fitness, the Belgian was given the night off in Munich but will come back into the heart of the City defence here.
The skipper will likely find himself in a battle with Arsenal’s French forward Olivier Giroud, and he’ll know that coming out on top of that particular contest will go a long way towards securing a crucial victory for his side.
Kompany is key in games like this, and will once again seek to lead by example.
City’s centre-back problems this season have now seen the experienced Argentinean start the last nine games in a row, and with Matija Nastasic still likely to be out for at least another week, he’ll line up alongside Kompany again here.
Pace isn’t a strong point of Demichelis’s game but positioning undoubtedly is, and he’ll need to use those skills in order to repel Arsenal’s attacks which are likely to be largely concentrated on passing through the centre of the hosts’ defence.
The movement of Mesut Ozil and co. is something that has troubled plenty of teams this season, but perhaps City and Demichelis can take inspiration from Everton’s impressive display in looking to stop it last week.
The good form of the Serbian sees him just edge out ex-Arsenal man Gael Clichy here, and deservedly so.
Kolarov wore the captain’s armband and scored a penalty in the memorable win in Munich, whilst he also started and set up goals in City’s most recent two Premier League games at West Brom and Southampton.
His threat from set pieces will be something that Arsene Wenger and his side will be wary of on Saturday afternoon, and if he can put his wand of a left foot to good use then Arsenal could be in trouble.
City’s Brazilian midfielder has played the full 90 minutes in 10 of the club’s last 11 Premier League games, only missing out on the miserable 1-0 defeat at Sunderland last month.
That is hardly a coincidence, as the calming, metronomic influence of the 28-year-old has helped his club immensely in his first season in England following the summer move from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Midfield is an area in which Arsenal have dominated plenty of games this season, but the influence of Fernandinho in the centre here will make that tough for them to repeat the trick at the Etihad.
Another who had the night off at the Allianz Arena, Toure will return to the heart of things here and will once again be crucial to the City cause.
Having Fernandinho behind him allows for the Ivorian to get forward and look to be at his rampaging best, and after ending a lean spell of just one goal in seven league games with his double strike at West Brom recently, he’ll be eager to register a fifth home league goal of the campaign here.
As Arsenal and Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly be aware, the threat that he provides will be a substantial one.
If there is one club that the Frenchman wants to get one over on, it is the Gunners.
Arsenal fans are still resentful of the manner in which Nasri left the club for City in August 2011, but the midfielder can point to a league winners’ medal gained in his first season at the club as tangible evidence that he made the right decision.
Back then he was considered to be merely a squad player at City, but this season he has been a key player and is arguably in the form of his life.
He’ll be a key man here.
City’s night in Munich wasn’t just memorable for their terrific win, but it also saw Silva play 73 minutes on his return from injury.
The Spanish ace has been absent from the club’s last five Premier League assignments, but after coming back with a goal in the Champions League he’ll be eager to be involved from the beginning here.
Whilst Jesus Navas has been preferred by Pellegrini in recent home games, he could see his fellow Spaniard take his place here.
The forward had a night off in Munich after scoring in his most recent two Premier League games, but he will obviously return to the starting line-up here and will represent City’s best chance of a goal.
Debates and comparisons with Luis Suarez may continue to reign, but there is little doubt that City wouldn’t swap their Argentinean ace for anyone, and they’ll be banking on him to impress again here after scoring seven in seven home league games this season.
Arsenal will need to watch him closely, but that is easier said than done.
Pellegrini has given Edin Dzeko his chance in two of the last three games, including Munich, but Negredo should return to continue his burgeoning partnership with Aguero here.
The Spaniard has scored a stunning nine goals in City’s last seven home games in all competitions, and he is likely to represent a constant menace to an Arsenal defence who struggled to deal with Romelu Lukaku in their last league game last weekend.
In better from than Aguero at home, perhaps it’ll be Negredo who proves to be the match-winner here.
Ready in Reserve
After scoring the winning goal in Munich and playing a part in both of the others, James Milner will be extremely unlucky to miss out on a starting place here, but he has become used to that at City by now.
Elsewhere, Joe Hart, Edin Dzeko and Javi Garcia dropping to the bench is slightly less surprising, whilst Joleon Lescott is another who will have to get comfy on the sidelines despite impressing in Munich.
How They'll Line Up
So after a somewhat experimental team triumphed in Germany, it’ll be back to basics for City against the Gunners, with the Aguero-Negredo partnership looked to for goals.
The key difference from recent Premier League weeks will be the return of Silva, with his ingenuity offering a different, more central approach to the right-wing raiding of Jesus Navas.
Arsenal are likely to field Carl Jenkinson at right-back and he could well be targeted by Kolarov, who loves to get forward.