Arsenal face Manchester City this weekend hoping to turn their recent dire form around. Three defeats and two wins in their last seven Premier League games has seen them slip out of the title race, and Arsene Wenger is now clinging to fourth place with Everton in close proximity.
With key players like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny out injured, Wenger doesn't have a lot to choose from, which makes his job even more difficult.
He knows that anything other than a win means they won't win the title this season, so the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea and last-minute 2-2 draw with Swansea must be thrown out the window and forgotten. If not, City will steamroll them just like they did earlier in the season.
City are missing Sergio Aguero, but Edin Dzeko is leading the line well and has hit form. It isn't Dzeko or even Alvaro Negredo whom Arsenal must be wary of, though—it is their midfield.
Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and David Silva tore a hole through the centre of Manchester United earlier this week and can certainly do that to Arsenal on Saturday.
Using stats from Squawka, we can see how both midfields have performed this season.
Something Arsenal will need to do Saturday which they struggled with at Stamford Bridge is pass the ball much better. A huge aspect of Wenger's style of play and Arsenal's attacking verve is the passing they display through midfield. If the passing is as poor as it was against Chelsea or Liverpool, or even the 6-3 defeat to City earlier in the season, they will struggle.
Toure and Fernandinho are destructive, and Silva has the guile and vision to pick Arsenal off should mistakes be made.
Mikel Arteta will probably start in midfield alongside Mathieu Flamini. The Spaniard has averaged 70.6 successful passes per 90 minutes, which is the best figure among the players mentioned. Toure comes a close second with 67.93, while Silva averages 67.38 per 90 minutes:
When it comes to forward passing, there still isn't a huge difference between Toure and Arteta. The Spaniard leads the way, hitting 52.16 passes forward while Toure has made 48.54 per 90 minutes.
Of course, it is the importance and type of passing that truly separates the best from the rest, and City prove that.
Toure and Fernandinho play as a central pair in a different way than Flamini and Arteta do. Both Arsenal players sit and try to control, while Fernandinho mostly sits and lets Toure control and power forward.
The Ivorian can create, but that duty is mainly down to Silva. The same applies to Arsenal, who will mostly be relying on Tomas Rosicky to create ahead of their central pairing.
David Silva is one of the best creative midfielders in the world, and he's shown it perfectly in the past few weeks.
With Toure, Fernandinho, Arteta and Flamini scrapping in central midfield, Silva and Rosicky will be trying to inflict damage at either end.
When it comes down to comparing both players, Silva wins in every department. It's quite a poor showing from the Czech who, despite playing one game more than Silva this season, sees his figures per 90 minutes completely dominated by his counterpart:
Silva has completed 41.85 passes forward per 90 minutes while Rosicky has just 36.76—quite a difference. The Spaniard also creates a lot more chances: 3.66 to 1.87 per 90 minutes.
City's creative fulcrum also has averaged more assists per 90 minutes (0.43 to Rosicky's 0.07).
Surprisingly, if we take out both Silva and Rosicky and just compare the four central midfielders, Fernandinho has created more chances per 90 minutes than everyone else (1.34).
While it is clear that Arsenal's creativity is spread out among their midfielders, all of their key ones are out. Ozil, Wilshere, Ramsey and Theo Walcott would provide a significant threat to City and pose more danger in the final third. In fact, if all were fit, Rosicky would not be starting.
The figures above prove that if both teams get into good positions, Silva is far more likely to cause trouble than Rosicky. Although he is a talented and reliable player, Rosicky just isn't as creative and threatening as Silva.
This is exactly why Arsenal need to be strong defensively.
Fernandinho is widely regarded as one of the best central midfielders in England, and you can see the improvement at City when he plays. It allows Toure to burst forward and score or create while the Brazilian tidies up behind. When he's not there, City are left with gaping holes and Toure has to play a more reserved role.
Toure is just as important to City's attacking movement as Fernandinho.
Fernandinho averages 2.42 tackles per 90 minutes; only Arteta (2.59) can beat that from the four being compared (Fernandinho, Arteta, Flamini, Toure).
He also makes the most interceptions out of the group at 2.42. Flamini isn't far behind with 2.4, and Arteta is just a little bit further along at 2.29.
When it comes to blocked shots, they're all quite close. Flamini averages the most with 0.69 every 90 minutes, but no one reaches above one.
And in terms of defensive errors—something you hate to see in a defensive midfielder—Fernandinho comes out on top. He and Toure have committed just one error each, while Flamini (2) is just in front and Arteta has a criminal four errors.
The Spaniard came in for rough treatment from fans after the debacle at Chelsea, as it seemed like most attacks were streaming right past him and he couldn't cope. It will be much worse when Yaya Toure picks the ball up at the Emirates with space to charge into. He's done it plenty of times this season and has 17 goals to his name to prove that.
He simply has to control the flow of attack. If he feels pressure and cannot track back fast enough, he should drop deeper and close the space behind him which Toure can utilise to effect.
It is quite clear both on paper and statistically that Man City's midfield shapes up much nicer than Arsenal's right now. If Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey were in the side, we would have a different answer right now, but the sheer power, athleticism, pace and talent of City's trio should (and probably will) outclass Arsenal's.
Wenger's midfield trio of Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini are no averages Joes, but they're not at the level to keep Toure, Fernandinho and Silva at bay.
The chances of Toure and Fernandinho dominating throughout and Silva picking out his fellow attackers are high. Arsenal will have a very difficult job to perform on Saturday. Another defeat and they can wave goodbye to the title and start feeling Everton breathing down their necks.