Arsene Wenger’s Gunners were cruising at a fair clip when Everton threw a spanner in their stride during the midweek game at Goodison Park. Wenger attributed that stumble to a physical game from the Toffees. However, he doesn’t have to worry about threading a physical defense when his side travel to Manchester City on Sunday. Pep Guardiola is unlikely to ask his defenders to get stuck in and even if he did, I am not sure if he has the players who can do that.
Till last weekend, Manchester City looked like a side starting to get into turmoil, having been the first Pep Guardiola side to concede at least three goals in consecutive league games. City’s title aspirations seemed in serious jeopardy. However, unlike their upcoming guests, City managed to win midweek – 2-0 against Watford at home. While that might seem like a convincing win from the score line, it really was not. City’s defense continues to flail in the absence of able leadership of Vincent Kompany and a better attack than Watford’s would definitely have caused more headache for Guardiola.
As if on cue, in the next match, City’s defense face one of the more gifted and mobile attacks in the Premier League. Only Liverpool (40) have scored more times than Arsenal’s 37 and Alexis Sanchez has contributed to 17 of them (12 scored, 5 assists). Despite their stumble at Goodison, Arsenal are in a far better form than their hosts. In the six games prior to the Everton match, Arsenal had won 4 and drawn two. The draws were against Spurs and Manchester United – both tough opponents. In the four matches the Gunners won, they scored 15 goals – nearly at the rate of 4 goals per game. So if you provide this Arsenal side a weak defense, they are bound to score a few. However, they are also less than full-proof at the back. In the last seven games, Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet. With their first choice central defense out injured, they certainly look vulnerable to fast attackers themselves.
Manchester City is clearly troubled by the absence of some of their first choice players. Aguero and Fernandinho continue to serve out their red card bans, while Kompany is joined by Ilkay Gundogan in the medical room. Gundogan’s absence depletes the number of options Pep has in the midfield and he may be forced to play Toure along with Fernando in the center of the park. In defense, his options revolve around which fullback to play centrally if he feels uncomfortable playing the central pairing of Stones and Otamendi.
Arsene Wenger’s problems of selection are fewer however, he too has recently lost a first-choice defender to injury in the form of Shkodran Mustafi. Mertesacker and Cazorla will continue to be absent at the Etihaad but Wenger seems to have adequate cover for these players. Wenger could make a change or two in the midfield or behind Sanchez but overall, he is likely to go with the team that lost at Goodison.
- Last six Premier League matches between these two sides have produced 24 goals, so a goal fest is clearly on the cards.
- Manchester City have received eight red cards in Premier League games against Arsenal. Pep Guardiola would desperately want to avoid adding to that tally.
- While Petr Cech has failed to keep a clean sheet in the last seven Premier League matches, he has never had a run of eight such games.
Kevin De Bruyne
In the initial part of the season, when Aguero was not available, the goal scoring responsibilities were seamlessly picked up by Iheanacho. However, during Aguero’s current absence this transition seems to have been a bit troubled. So the other gifted players in Pep’s team have to pick up the goal scoring responsibilities and one of the most equipped among these players is De Bruyne. While he has played the role of the chief provider thus far providing 8 of City’s 26 assists, he has amply shown in the past that he can be a potent goal scorer as well. So if Pep again plays him in the hole behind Iheanacho, he is bound to get a few shots on target, in addition to creating opportunities for the striker and his fellow wingers – Silva and Sterling.
Alexis Sanchez has been the focal point of media and perhaps opposition’s attention on Arsenal and rightly so. He has contributed to 27 goals in his last 27 league appearances for the Gunners. However, his goal scoring ability (coupled with is central position) has kind of overshadowed his assisting capabilities. He leads the league in key passes and the beneficiary of these passes more often than not has been Mesut Ozil. Ozil has scored five goals thus far in the league and four of them have been assists from Sanchez. It is likely that Guardiola’s men will focus more on the imminent threat from Sanchez, possibly leaving the ex-Real Madrid man to add to his goals tally.
This game seems to be a match between two depleted defenses and two sets of extremely gifted forwards. While City’s forwards certainly can trouble Arsenal’s backline and score a few, their recent form, especially since Agero’s red card, is far from great. While on the other side, Arsenal, although missing a key defender, have their first choice attackers and midfielders fit and ready to strike. Due to this one factor, I feel that the Gunners will have an edge over Pep’s team on Sunday. If they do edge the game, they will throw a huge spanner in Manchester City’s title challenge.