Arsenal play host to Manchester City tomorrow in a rematch of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final (or maybe not, depending on the weather). In case you missed it, you’re one of the lucky ones. City beat Arsenal 3-0. When these two clubs met at the Etihad in early November, City won 3-1. Another matchup with the best club in the league is unlikely to help Arsenal keep pace with the top four, who are falling further out of reach.
That said, the matches were closer than those scorelines would suggest. In both games, Arsenal clogged the middle of the pitch and (somewhat) successfully slowed City’s vaunted attack. The Gunners were mostly done in by defensive mistakes - poor positioning, bad giveaways, questionable decision making, etc. To their credit, City took advantage of those mistakes and put Arsenal to the sword as they pressed for goals.
That’s why, for my money, the most important thing Arsenal can do tomorrow is score the first goal (or at least not concede early). The Gunners have shown they can’t play from behind against City - the Citizens choke the life out of Arsenal’s attack while putting the game further out of reach.
But if Manchester City has a weakness, it’s their defense. That’s a strange thing to say about the joint-leader for fewest goals conceded, but the City backline is not one that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing attackers. City draw much of their defensive strength from their attacking prowess. They dominate possession and play from in front, which allows their midfield to play more conservatively to help out the defense.
If the Gunners win tomorrow, it will be because Mesut Özil had a big game. As he goes, so goes the Arsenal attack, and in the previous two matchups, Manchester City did a good job of keeping him quiet. By stifling Özil, City were also able to limit the impact of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the cup final. Arsenal need to find a way to get Özil on the ball with that tiny sliver of space he needs if they want to be successful.
Arsenal will be without the services of Nacho Monreal, who is expected to miss at least the next two matches with a back injury. Sead Kolašinac should take the Spaniard’s place in the formation. Everyone else is available for selection.
Manchester City will be missing Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho due to injury and Fabian Delph due to suspension. Fernandinho’s absence is key - the Brazilian is the motor that powers the City machine and protects their backline. With him out, Arsenal may enjoy more space in the midfield and more time on the ball.
Times are tough at Arsenal. The Gunners have lost 3 of their last 4 matches and did not play well in them. The vultures are circling Arsene Wenger. The supporters are restless. A win over City would help stave off the dark clouds on the horizon.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Manchester City
WHERE: Emirates Stadium, London
WHEN: Thursday March 1st, 11:45 AM PT | 2:45 PM ET | 7:45 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN. Stream here.
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