On Saturday, Arsenal head to the Etihad Stadium to face the most feared home side in the Premier League this season. Manchester City have scored 29 goals at home in the league so far, having beaten the likes of Norwich 7-0 and Spurs 6-0.
The Gunners will increase their six-point lead over City with a win, but another home victory for the former champions will put them as title favourites.
There will be many key battles around the pitch in Manchester given the amount of talent on display. Due to City’s incredible scoring record at the Etihad, it will be important for Arsenal to stay strong at the back.
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker vs. Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo
Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero have scored a combined 12 league goals at home this season, which is 41 percent of their total goals scored at the Etihad.
City are dangerous in attack at home so Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will need to be at their best to keep Aguero and Negredo quiet. Combined, the Arsenal central defenders have successfully completed 13 tackles out of 22 away from home this season. They have been aerially dominant as well, winning 22 of 35 headed duels.
If you compare those headed duel figures to City’s front pairing at home, it is considerably better. If Arsenal can frustrate City into hitting the ball long, Aguero and Negredo will struggle to threaten the leader's back line. The lethal strikers have won a combined 11 of 40 headed duels at the Etihad this season.
However, City rarely play the ball in the air, especially considering Aguero is so small. Koscielny and Mertesacker will have to restrict their movement and touches inside the penalty area as Aguero has a conversion rate of 29.2 percent while Negredo has converted a superb 33.3 percent of his chances.
This will be the biggest battle Saturday as whoever comes out on top will decide the final result.
Olivier Giroud vs. Vincent Kompany
Olivier Giroud has led Arsenal’s line well this season while City’s captain has missed a large portion of the season through injury. The Frenchman is quite lucky to still be Arsenal’s main senior striker after Arsene Wenger made his intentions clear over the summer as he searched for a new frontman.
Despite Wenger’s reluctance to play Giroud as his No. 1 forward, the tall French striker has responded well by scoring seven goals in the league. His most impressive aspect has been his all-round effort displayed. He has held the ball up well, winning 66 headed duels and played his teammates into good positions by creating 20 chances.
Vincent Kompany will need to stay tight to Giroud but be careful of his clever flicks through gaps to the midfield runners. The Belgian hasn’t featured much this season but has been dominant in the air, winning four out of five headed duels. He’s also done well to bring the ball out of defence, completing 80 percent of his take-ons.
Giroud will pressure Kompany while he’s on the ball so he’ll have to be strong and calm. He’ll also need to be alert to Giroud’s touches and his hold-up play for runners who he will try to play a pass to. This is sure to be an impressive battle and a hard fought one, but one would assume Kompany will be able to deal with Giroud.
Yaya Toure vs. Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey and Yaya Toure have both been imperious this season. Both midfielders have been fantastic, driving from deep in the midfield to support attacks. Ramsey has eight goals to his name in the league while Toure has seven.
Ramsey has created more chances than Toure due to playing in a slightly more advanced role, but the key thing between the pair’s duel will be whether Toure can halt Ramsey’s pulsating runs from the midfield and off of Giroud.
The Ivorian isn’t the best tackler, though, winning just 28 percent of them this season. He has won just five tackles on home soil from an attempted 25. He may struggle to tackle Ramsey, but he can halt his forceful runs by tracking him and closing him down.
Ramsey must stop Toure to the best of his ability, too. The African Footballer of the Year has converted 38.9 percent of his shots this season. It is even better at home as he has scored with 44 percent of his chances at the Etihad.
Ramsey’s main job will not only be to stop Toure, but he must try to stop the City midfielder’s charging runs and shots, too.
Both are extremely accurate when it comes to shooting. If Arsenal’s and City’s forwards are nullified, which isn’t beyond possibility considering the defenders on the pitch, Ramsey and Toure may well be either of the match-winners.
All three battles will be hugely contested and will go some way to deciding the outcome of one of the most hotly anticipated games of the season.
If Aguero and Negredo are stopped by Wenger’s central pairing then the Gunners may leave victorious. However, if Ramsey’s charging runs and Giroud’s awesome flicks and creative play can be halted, then City will take the advantage.
It is set up to be a classic, but who will win their personal battles?