On December 14th, leaders Arsenal travel to the Etihad to take on fourth place Manchester City. This is a major top of the table clash between two genuine title contenders. City will be looking to defend their 100% record at home and Arsenal will try to help their title push after both teams dropped points last weekend, either way, they need to get back to winning ways. Manchester City have scored more goals at home this season than 16 Premier League teams have total.
Both teams will be missing cogs in their normal back four along with other players. Arsene Wenger confirmed that Arsenal will be missing key defender Bacary Sagna through a hamstring injury. They are still without Yaya Sanogo, Abou Diaby, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain who all are still recovering from long term injuries. Winger Lukas Podolski may make his long awaited return to the first team but will definitely not start.
Manchester City will be missing centre-back Matija Nastasic to a calf injury. City will be awaiting the official diagnosis on how long it will take for the injury prone Micah Richards to come back from injury, but he will likely miss the Arsenal tie. Gael Clichy and summer signing Steven Jovetic will be game day decisions.
Arsenal have the slight edge in the all time record for this fixture, when played in Manchester, winning 35, losing 32 and drawing 21. Since Manchester City moved to the Etihad, this fixture has been played 10 times, in the league, with Arsenal winning five, City winning four and just one draw. Last year, the two teams drew at the Etihad making it the first draw between the two sides, in Manchester, since January of 1994. This is a matchup between the team with the best defensive record, Arsenal, versus the team with the best offensive record. Last season, the team with the best defensive record, Manchester City, split the games against the team with the best offensive record, Manchester United, with each team winning away.
One player who can tear apart the Arsenal defence with one or two moments of brilliance is Sergio Aguero. Aguero has been ripping up defence’s all over the country this season, averaging a goal every 90 minutes. Aguero has been clinical, finishing 24% of his chances, which is the fifth best in the league, after a minimum 30 shots. Aguero has been able to work a shot on target every 36 minutes this season meaning Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny will have to ward off at least two or three efforts from the Argentinian to try to maintain a clean sheet. While Aguero’s goal-scoring has been phenomenal, Aguero’s link up play and all around creativity has been superb this season. Aguero’s ability to link the play as well as score fantastic goals takes him to that upper tier of striker. He’s been creating a chance every 45 minutes for City this season and a clear cut chance every 212 minutes. He’s also one of a handful of world class players that will be on the pitch on Saturday but he is the only world class striker. As the expression goes, goals win you games and world class strikers bring you goals. If Aguero is firing then it will be a long day for Arsenal’s league leading defence.
If Arsenal are to get something from this game, the gunners will need their record signing, Mesut Ozil, to be firing. Since arriving in England on deadline day, Ozil has shown his quality, creating a chance every 31 minutes and a clear cut chance every 349 minutes. Ozil is joint leader in Premier League assists, even after missing the first three games of the season. And, despite not being known as a goal scorer, Ozil has been able to grab four goals this season and has an impressive 81% shot accuracy. Ozil has that world class ability that has raised the game of all the Arsenal players around him and has made other teams take Arsenal more seriously. If Ozil does nothing else, he will make the entire City defence look over their shoulder fearing that Ozil could cut them apart.
While Arsenal are league leaders and have been in good form this season, Manchester City have been absolutely unstoppable at home this season scoring 29 goals and only conceding two. That said, since March 13th, Arsenal have been a very good road team only losing twice and have taken the scalps of two European powers, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, at their home grounds. Manchester City will come in with more momentum, having won their midweek Champions League game, and have an extra day of rest for this game. This could be a season where Manchester City go undefeated at home but they will inevitably drop points there this year and who better to do it than the best road team this season, Arsenal. I’m going to go with a scored draw for this one.