Lineups from 19:00
Arsenal: Cech, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Monreal, Ramsey, Flamini, Walcott, Campbell, Ozil, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Iwobi, Ox, Reine-Adelaide
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure (C), Delph, De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero
Subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Clichy, Navas, Sterling, Iheanacho, Bony
(The Arsenal Perspective by @JamrockRover)
As Leicester continue to sweep all aside at the top of the Premier League it’s up to the next two teams to try to close the gap on them. Arsenal and City get a chance to do just that tonight when they play each other at the Emirates in a game which is probably the most important league game for both of them so far this season. As it stands Arsenal are a point ahead of City and will stay ahead of them once they don’t lose the game.
City are still favourites to win the league despite Leicester’s great form and Arsenal being ahead of them too, but Arsenal are the next most likely team to win it if City falter. They have the chance to open a four point gap over them tonight or at least maintain their one point gap and they have to make sure they don’t lose. There is no doubting City’s ability to play very good attacking football, but their defence looks extremely porous every time Vincent Kompany is missing and he won’t be playing tonight.
I’m not overly impressed by Kompany myself, but City’s defence certainly performs better when he plays. If Arsenal can get about them they are prone to errors and there are goals for the taking. The tougher job for Arsenal could be keeping City out at the other end with their array of attacking options.
The injuries to Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla mean the axis of Arsenal’s midfield will be a combination of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey and for all their qualities they don’t protect the defence anywhere near as well as Coquelin in particular did. If City are going to be repelled tonight Flamini has to curb his attacking urges and so too does Ramsey if that’s possible.
In the last few games since he got his chance in his favoured role he has been a huge attacking threat, but that threat also leaves Arsenal vulnerable behind him when he gets forward. If the game is too open and becomes a shootout tonight it’s more likely to go in City’s favour. It’s not easy to know which City team will turn up though and I hope it’s the one which was thumped 4-1 at home by Liverpool or by the same score away to Spurs.
Petr Cech has the chance to set a record for Premier League clean sheets tonight while Mesut Ozil is quickly closing in on the record for assists in a Premier League season currently held by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. It would be great for Cech to get that record tonight and for Ozil to get a step closer to his record too, but for all the hype none of those records really count for much. The only record that really matters is the one which shows who lifted the Premier League trophy at the end of the season and that has to be Arsenal’s aim this season.
They haven’t won the league since the Invincibles of 2004 and this season has to be their best chance since then. The reigning champions are already out of the running while both United and Liverpool look incapable of putting in a serious challenge. In reality the title should come down to a straight fight between Arsenal and City despite Leicster’s current position and Arsenal need to get every edge that they can over City.
There’s no extra midweek games for Arsenal to worry about before they play Barcelona in late February while City have a two legged Capital One Cup semi final to play against Everton in January. Arsenal might just get the opportunity to put a bit of pressure on City in January and again it’s an opportunity they have to make sure they don’t miss out on.
City started the season as if they were going to run away with the league, but their form has been patchy since then to say the least. They have a pretty good defensive record on their travels, but they have struggled to score away from home. Arsenal haven’t set the world alight at home either with the exception of their display against United and they have been a lot more clinical in front of goal away from home.
It all points to a low scoring game tonight which probably means we’ll get an eight or 10 goal classic in a season where it’s been almost impossible to predict the outcome of any game in the Premier League. I’ll take either as long as Arsenal come out on top and it’s certainly within their capabilities.
I would expect to see the same team which beat Villa last week play tonight with Alexis Sanchez probably coming off the bench towards the end. It’s great to see him back again and hopefully his enforced break because of his injury will have given him a chance to recharge his batteries. He’s going to have a big part to play if Arsenal are going to go all the way this season and he might just be the man to help them end their 12 year wait for a Premier League title.