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Match Preview: Arsenal v. Manchester City

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Arsenal vs. Manchester City, Saturday, April 24th, Emirates Stadium

In the middle of last September, Arsenal took a second successive trip to Manchester after coming out of the gate like a house on fire.  A more or less unfair defeat at Old Trafford had slowed their momentum, and a trip to Eastlands offered the chance to get back to winning.  A freakish early goal by Micah Richards, off of Almunia's head and in, was cancelled out by Robin van Persie's 62nd minute finish, and Arsenal began to dominate until Bellamy, Adebayor, and Shaun Wright-Phillips put things away.

Of course, the match was also the first time Emmanuel Adebayor faced his old teammates.  After stamping on van Persie's face and celebrating his goal by sprinting the length of the pitch to gloat in front of the Arsenal away support, he assured that he was off of their wedding invite lists, if he wasn't already.

It was not a good day, basically.

A quick glance at the Guardian chalkboard for the match in September suggests that Arsenal attacked and passed much more incisively than did City on the day.  City had very few passes into the box, and most of their play went up the wings and died on the vine.  Arsène Wenger called the concession of the second goal "stupid" and said things unravelled too quickly.  Arsenal's passing chart, true to form, thickly covers most of the pitch, including the City box.  Whether this pattern repeats itself tomorrow or not remains to be seen, but it may be difficult without Fabregas in the middle and Gallas and Vermaelen starting play from the back.

Alexander Dimitri Song Billong faces a fitness test today to see if he will be able to go, and van Persie should be able to feature in some capacity.  One is loathe to speculate on his psychological state going into the match, but perhaps he will take some motivation from his encounter with Adebayor last summer.  I doubt that Wenger will toy with the formation and starting XI too much, particularly if Song is fit.  Arshavin, Denilson, and Almunia are out, so Fabianski should feature in, well, hopefully a role where he keeps the ball from rolling across the goal line.  Depending on how this match turns out, Wenger may decide to bring in some younger players for the last two matches, but because City are desperate to grab fourth place, and Arsenal to keep at least third, my guess is that he will put out as much experience as possible.

City will be missing Richards, Joleon Lescott, and possibly Martin Petrov from their core group of starters. 

Fox Soccer Channel will show the match starting at 12:30 PM EDT.