Familiar feelings of disappointment may be filling the minds of Arsenal supporters as the season reaches mid-March, but with Everton coming up like a train behind them, focus needs to switch towards their annual challenge to secure fourth place.
Roberto Martinez’s Blues are six points behind the Gunners with a game in hand, and face Arsenal at Goodison Park next Sunday. Therefore, Arsene Wenger could do with an easy three points this weekend. Instead, he’s facing Manchester City.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have ominously—for their title rivals at least—clicked into gear in recent weeks, most notably with the 3-0 victory in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
This clash is clearly one of their tougher remaining fixtures, but they’ll know that Arsenal’s fragile state of mind can be played upon.
An intriguing clash clearly awaits, but what will be the key aspects within it?
Here, we've taken a look at the tale of the tape to find out:
Olivier Giroud Can’t Be “A Statue” Against Vincent Kompany
Irate Arsenal fans being interviewed outside the Emirates Stadium have become a staple of recent seasons, and they were back following the disappointing 2-2 draw with Swansea City on Tuesday night.
ArsenalFanTV spoke to one supporter who placed much of the blame for the disappointing draw on the shoulders of Olivier Giroud, despite the Frenchman scoring the goal that looked as though it was going to earn his side victory until Mathieu Flamini's late own goal turned three points into one.
The supporter claims that Giroud was as static as one of the statues outside the stadium. If the Gunners are going to get anything out of the game against City, the Frenchman can’t afford to be as immobile in his battle with City skipper Vincent Kompany.
As seen twice already this month, forwards who stay on the move and look to run beyond the Belgian have been getting some joy. And, coincidentally, both moments came early on in the respective matches.
In the Capital One Cup final, some clever movement from Sunderland forward Fabio Borini led to the Italian getting in behind Kompany and giving his side the lead.
Two weeks on from that triumph at Wembley, the City captain was again in trouble early on when Hull’s Nikica Jelavic looked to run past him and through on goal before being hauled down by the Belgian, who was subsequently sent off.
Should Giroud stay static on Saturday, he’s unlikely to get any joy up against Kompany and Martin Demichelis. But if he dispenses with tradition and tries to get in behind them early on, then his side could benefit.
The trouble with this, of course, is that the Frenchman isn’t the quickest. However, he does possess good movement in and around the penalty area—as evidenced by his goal against Tottenham earlier in the season.
That said, how Wenger must wish he had the express pace of a Theo Walcott available here.
Arsenal Can’t Afford To Be Sloppy In Midfield Again
Although the heavy defeats that have come to characterise their season have all been away from home, Arsenal will be wary of another embarrassment at the weekend.
The Gunners lost 6-3 to City at the Etihad Stadium in December, before further heavy setbacks at Liverpool in February and then Chelsea last weekend.
Both of the latter two matches featured common themes, with the Gunners blown away following fast starts from the home sides. Wenger’s men were 4-0 down after 19 minutes at Anfield, and then 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge after 17 minutes with a man sent off—albeit the wrong one.
Both Liverpool and Chelsea took advantage of the weakness in Arsenal’s midfield to establish their dominance in the game, with sloppiness in the centre the undoing of Wenger’s men.
At Anfield, it was Mesut Ozil—who is admittedly injured here—who lost the ball to Jordan Henderson in the build-up to Raheem Sterling’s first goal. What is more noticeable, however, is the complete lack of Arsenal midfielders around to support their team-mate when the Liverpool man had closed him down.
Once he’d won the ball, Henderson was able to drive on and find Luis Suarez, who teed up Sterling for a tap in at the back post.
Fast forward six weeks, and the Gunners still hadn’t learned their lesson.
Seven minutes into the game and already 1-0 down, Arsenal lost the ball when Nemanja Matic closed down Santi Cazorla in the centre of the pitch. Again, Cazorla wasn’t backed up by any of his teammates, and Matic was able to find Andre Schurrle, who drove on and fired his shot into the bottom corner to double his side’s lead.
With the likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas all likely to be around to take advantage of such situations on Saturday, the Gunners simply have to be careful in the middle third.
Whatever You Do Arsenal, Don’t Let Yaya Toure Shoot From Distance
You can talk tactics and midfield shape as much as you want, but ultimately football can often just come down to moments of genius from gifted performers.
Toure has been one of the best performers on the Premier League stage this season, and—as we saw with his recent goals against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final and the strike which sealed his hat-trick against Fulham last week—he’s deadly from long range.
Fail to close him down and he could punish Arsenal, just like he did here: