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Arsenal preview


Another barometer of ambitions for the season arrives this weekend with a visit from Arsenal, currently sat in third position and three points behind City. It is a game that presents both an opportunity make that 'statement' as many in the press have referred to and put some distance between ourselves and a rival for a Champions League berth.

The recent record against Arsenal (at home anyway) is positive indeed, winning three of the past four in the league at Eastlands. The days of the early-2000's when Pires, Henry and Vieira handed out their annual shellacking at Maine Road (Carlo Nash must still have visions of his debut picking the ball out of the net four times before half-time without even having made a save in the game) appear long gone.

Much like when Liverpool arrived earlier in the season, tomorrow's game represent the first time where you feel that anything but a win at home would be a disappointment. Expectations have become such that a draw would feel like points dropped rather than gained based upon ambitions for the season as a whole.

That isn't to say it will be an easy task of course; far from it. The pace and potency of Arsenal needs little introduction and they have recorded several victories by big margins already this season, and come into the game on the back of a 5-1 win in Europe. That said, Arsenal have won only one of the four games outside of Emirates this season, averaging a goal a game in the process and haven't kept a clean sheet in fifteen away games.

The side that Roberto Mancini has assembled is also based more on the ethos of Chelsea, opponents Arsenal have typically struggled against; possessing traits such as power, ball retention and possession, looking to suck opponents in before striking on the counter. Far different to Arsenal's more expansive style and the past two victories in the league in particular (although under Mark Hughes) were largely obtained this way.

Based upon the side fielded in the victory over Lech Poznan, it would seem obvious that the favoured 4-5-1 will once again be deployed. Fitness permitting, this would see the midfield trio of de Jong, Barry and Yaya Toure restored, joined by James Milner and, based upon form over the past week, David Silva, who looks to be entering a real period of form. Despite his hat-trick, Tevez will replace Emmanuel Adebayor.

If there is a concern at present it is in defence. The absence of Kolo Toure the past two games points to quite how well his partnership with Vincent Kompany has developed. The hope is that he has recovered from injury to regain his place in the side. The continued absence of Aleksandar Kolarov also leaves questions at left-back, and whoever fills the void from Lescott, Bridge or Zabaleta, this will be an area for Arsenal to target.

The midfield area will be the key to the game, and if the performance against Chelsea can be replicated it will be difficult to see Arsenal being able to dominate the game. With Silva and Milner, City will be able to create enough and should have enough to edge the game - likely by a 2-1 margin with Carlos Tevez (yet) again on the scoresheet.