December 18, 2011
How did we get here?
How did we get to the point where a trip to Man City is probably the most daunting match of the season (and this in a season where we conceded eight at Old Trafford)?
Surely Man City are supposed to be everybody’s second favourite team. The slightly laughable try-hards, yo-yoing up and down between the top three divisions, stumbling from one false dawn to the next. I used to laugh at the very phrase ‘a trip to Man City’, thinking that it sounded like a gigantic superstore for men to buy other men. ‘Welcome to Man City! Don’t forget to visit our new Shy Guy section. Aisle four just next to Brawny and Horny!’
So what’s changed? Well, in a word – money. Money has changed everything. If they chose to, City could buy us tomorrow. They might decide that rather than propping up our balance sheet every season by overpaying for our more overrated players, it makes more economic sense to just buy the entire club and use Arsene Wenger as a ridiculously overpaid youth coach (which obviously some of this website’s more irate readers already think he is).
Today it’s quite likely that City’s bench will have cost more than our entire squad. And I know that’s the kind of stat that’s wheeled out on a regular basis to describe the disparity in teams’ values but usually it’s in a cup game when a Premier League side are playing some League Two minnow. This is Arsenal!
All of which makes me even more determined to get a result today. As if I needed any more encouragement.
We all know how strong City are. At home they’ve won every single game scoring an average of more than three in each so we’ve got some serious work on our hands today but Arsene Wenger is confident:
Their home form is absolutely exceptional and it is a massive test for us. We are ready mentally and physically, we are focused and we have a chance to win the game.
Let’s go there with the right attitude and try to do our best on the day. If we play at our best I think we can beat anybody in the world. We can beat Man City.
Of course a lot will depend on how we cope in the absence of any recognised full backs. I suspect Djourou and Vermaelen will continue in those spots but a spot of tinkering can’t be ruled out. Djourou still looks less than comfortable on the right while when Koscielny plays out there he looks a natural. What price Djourou playing in his more comfortable centre back role or even dropping him entirely and bringing Vermaelen back into central defence with perhaps Ignasi Miquel on the left? At least then you’d be confident in three out of four of the defence.
But as I said, I expect we’ll stick with what we’ve been doing and hope that Djourou’s gradually growing in awareness in that role. In which case the team will probably look like this:
Djourou – Per – Kozzer – Verm
Arteta – Song – Ramsey
Theo – RVP – Gervinho
Whoever does get the nod at full back, the two wingers will be expected to put in a hell of a shift to both protect them defensively and provide an easy outlet when they’re under pressure. JD in particular has a tendency to panic when pressed. We got away with him giving the ball away in dangerous positions against Everton. City might not be quite so charitable.
One man who will need to have a good game is Wojciech Szczesny. He has of course been brilliant this season, making saves that simply wouldn’t have been made for us in the recent past. It’s meant that our tendency to dominate games, fail to score, and then get hit once on the break by lower ranked teams has been less of an issue this season. Thinking back to games against the likes of Swansea and Sunderland, Woj was on hand to make the saves that meant that all of our hard work didn’t go to waste. Today however he could be busy for longer stretches. Remembering the save from Lee Cattermole against Sunderland, Arsene said:
I thought it was a goal. I didn’t see how he could miss it. But Szczesny is capable of that sort of save.
He has charisma and that is needed for a goalkeeper. That means you think that he will [make the] save and not be fazed by the occasion. That stop was one of the turning points maybe for the run that we are on at the moment. I hope he will save one or two like that on Sunday.
It’s a big day for our top four hopes with United, Liverpool and Spurs also playing and with Chelsea having dropped points last night against Wigan. Get a decent result today and the rest of the Xmas period looks like an opportunity to really stamp our claims on a Champions League spot, maybe even start talking about a title challenge. Lose and we’ll have our work cut out to get ourselves back on track with the fixtures mounting. Lose and lose any more players to injury and we could find ourselves in some trouble.
So it’s a pretty big one. As if you needed telling.