With big games coming thick and fast for every Premier League club, the standout this weekend is Saturday evening’s clash between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
After months and months of making people question, it is here – the annual Arsenal collapse. A heavy defeat to Chelsea last weekend and a disappointing draw against Swansea in midweek, the talk surrounding the future of Arsene Wenger has returned while some are questioning whether or not Arsenal will finish in the top 4. On the face of it, to neutral fans, it might not look too bad at Arsenal, but 4 wins in 10 matches has seen them slip out of the title race during a pivotal month of difficult matches in quick succession as their mental toughness becomes another topic to remerge. A trophy is still available in the FA Cup though, with Arsenal being the clear favourites, but they have been there before in the League Cup a few years ago and everyone knows what happened in that match.
Fresh off the back of a comfortable derby win, Manchester City are back in the driving seat for the Premier League title. Residing in 2nd place currently, City are 3 points behind Chelsea yet have the fortune of playing two fewer games than the London club. Pellegrini’s side have won 4 matches in a row after their tumble against Norwich, Chelsea and Barcelona to get back on track with good performances – a contrast of stepping up when it gets tough compared to Arsenal. Eight victories in 10 matches and their midweek clear of European football makes them the favourites for the title.
At a time when Arsenal need a leader to stand up and rally his teammates to a spirited performance – alongside not getting another battering off a rival club – Per Mertesacker has proved to be a vocal and physical presence for the Gunners this season.
The German defender has been one of Arsenal’s best players of the season and the drubbings against Chelsea, Liverpool and Saturday’s opponents Manchester City will have annoyed him. The lack of a quality defensive midfielder in front of him means that Arsenal are left open against the bigger teams and Mertesacker will have to use all of his experience to prevent that happening yet again.
Mertesacker’s excellent reading of the game has helped the defender to adapt to the Premier League after the pace of games caught him out when he first arrived in England – this can be seen in the amount of interceptions he’s made (54). The presence of Mertesacker has also helped Arsenal to grind out a win throughout the season, like his performance against Tottenham, and his ability in the air has been a huge factor with 142 headed clearance – 205 altogether – as well as being a threat from corners with 2 league goals to his name.
This season has seen a return to his consistent best for Toure as the colossal Ivorian midfielder has created a central midfield partnership with Fernandinho to rival any in Europe. Without Fernandinho in the side to accompany Toure, Manchester City have only won once out of the 5 games he has missed and Toure scored just the 1 goal during that period.
The reason why Toure works so well with Fernandinho is the balance between attack and defence, not only of the team but each other. Given the reliance Mancini had on Toure being moved further up the pitch when chasing a game, using the former Barcelona midfielder further up the pitch has improved the performances of the team – and has resulted in Toure’s goal tally increasing massively from 7 last season to 17 this campaign.
The way Toure bullied Manchester United’s midfield in midweek will frighten Arsenal fans, especially after the Gunners’ midfield collapsed recently against both Liverpool and Chelsea.
- Despite being injured since December, Aaron Ramsey is still the Arsenal player with the most tackles this season (56) highlighting their defensive issues in midfield.
- Olivier Giroud has attempted the 5th most shots (70) in the league, while Edin Dzeko has the 9th most with 60.
- Yaya Toure has scored with nine of his 11 dead ball shots this season (five penalties, four direct free-kicks).
- Sergio Aguero has been missed by Manchester City with the Argentine forward being involved in a goal every 60 minutes.
- Last season’s victory at the Emirates was Manchester City’s was first in the Premier League era.
Arsenal’s squad is set to be tested again with 8 players set to miss out. These include Monreal, Ozil, and Ramsey who will be out for a further few weeks.
Manchester City could welcome back Aguero, who has been out with a hamstring injury. The game comes too soon for Richards and Nastasic though.
Given Arsenal’s record against the teams around them in recent years and the current feeling surrounding the opposing team, there can only be one winner – Manchester City; who will kill off the small remaining hopesof Arsenal winning the title and heap more pressure on winning the FA Cup.