Image source: Metro UK
Arsenal and Manchester City remain in the fray for winning the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League title that has a new contender in Leicester City, the current league leaders. At the start of the season, both these teams were tipped to be title contenders. And, although Arsenal and City have struggled for consistency at various stages of this season, both teams are separated by a mere point after Gameweek 16.
Both teams have quite a few of their key players on the treatment table. And injuries have indeed played a part in both sides’ inconsistency at some stage.
For the hosts, Santiago Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, the two central midfielders, are definitely out with different knee injuries. Arsene Wenger, on Thursday, said that Alexis Sanchez has a chance to be in the 18-man matchday squad. It remains to be seen if the Chilean forward starts the game, or simply makes the bench. Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (calf), Danny Welbeck (knee) and Tomas Rosicky (knee) remain long-term absentees. For City, Manuel Pellegrini will be happy to have Sergio Aguero back in contention after recovering from a heel injury he picked up against Southampton. Vincent Kompany (calf), Fernando Reges (hamstring), Pablo Zabaleta (knee) and Samir Nasri (hamstring) are not available for tonight’s game.
Big games such as this one tend to hinge on the individual player battles across various positions on the pitch. Talking of tonight’s game, which four player battles could potentially decide the outcome?
Arsenal v Manchester City player battles
Mesut Ozil v Fernandinho
Fernandinho and Ozil have arguably been the ‘best players’ in their respective teams so far this season. Both these players have thrived in their respective roles as midfielder and playmaker.
Ozil is enjoying his best season for the Gunners since making the switch from Real Madrid, having made 13 assists and scored 2 goals in 15 league appearances. He is creating over 4.3 chances-per-game, and has been instrumental to Arsenal’s current position on the league table. Tonight, however, he will come up against Fernandinho, who has recaptured the form of his debut season and brought plenty of energy to City’s engine room. He has won 40% of his attempted tackles (90) in 16 league appearances, and does excel in winning the ball high up the pitch. But, winning the ball is not his only forte. He has got the passing game too – with a passing accuracy of 89% – to complement his ability to time and win his tackles. Coming up against Ozil will be a litmus test for the Brazilian midfielder, who needs to keep track of the German’s movements and uncanny knack of dropping into spaces between the lines. Ozil v Fernandinho is no doubt a match-deciding tussle in the centre of the park.
David Silva v Mathieu Flamini
This midfield battle between City’s Spanish playmaker and Arsenal’s French midfielder is very much akin to the Ozil-Fernandinho tussle at the other end.
Silva has made just 8 league appearances this season, which has been hampered by a couple of injuries. In a recent interview, Silva said that he is slowly getting back into rhythm, having now recovered completely from those injuries.
He will be a threat to Arsenal tonight, with Flamini being the most likely to be asked to stop Silva. The 29-year-old playmaker has made 6 assists and scored a solitary goal so far in the league. His chance creation rate of 2.3 per game is not bad, but would want to improve on that statistic in tonight’s game. Silva, who is likely to operate from his favored No.10 position in City’s 4-2-3-1 system, thrives in retaining possession of the ball. Not only is Silva hard to dispossess, but he does play some incisive passes in the business areas of the pitch, most importantly. Flamini’s role in the Arsenal side has become more significant in recent weeks while Coquelin has been out with a knee injury. The Frenchman has not done badly for a fringe player, completing 91% of his attempted passes and winning 37% of his duels. He, however, can be liable with his tackling and therefore does have his task cut out against Silva, who is intelligent in dropping into those tiny pockets and also making space for his team mates.
Hector Bellerin v Aleksandar Kolarov
This is going to be quite a fascinating tussle on City’s left-flank, where Kolarov will go head-to-head with Bellerin, Arsenal’s right-back. Both these fullbacks are rather attack-minded, with the difference being Bellerin’s fleet-footedness.
Kolarov does a lot of damage whenever he gets forward, and that is how he has scored his two goals in the league this season. He is incisive with his crossing, and a lethal attacking outlet for City. The dilemma for the Serbian tonight, however, is Bellerin’s pace and penchant for getting forward at every possible opportunity, just like him. Does Kolarov be wary of the Arsenal man’s threat, and curb his attacking game? Or, does he get forward and in turn dictate the 20-year-old’s influence on the game? That is what makes this player battle all the more engrossing.
City’s left-back is enjoying a good season, having made 14 appearances so far and being a regular in the City lineup. He has won only 38% of his attempted tackles (32) so far, but does draw fouls from opposition players – having been fouled 18 times. Bellerin, on the other hand, has a vastly better tackle success rate of 49% (19/39), having made the same number of league appearances as Kolarov. With his ability to go past people, the Spanish fullback has completed an impressive 65% of his attempted take-ons (31), giving Arsenal an attacking edge on the right-flank. Although not quite as significant as the aforementioned player battles, Bellerin-Kolarov duel will be another key factor in tonight’s clash between Arsenal and City.
Olivier Giroud v Eliaquim Mangala
Upfront, it will be an all-French tussle between Giroud and Mangala, who should play alongside Nicolas Otamendi, with Kompany injured and Demichelis expected to be only on the bench. City’s central defender, who was brought in from FC Porto last season, has not adapted to playing with Otamendi and Demichelis. He has looked very vulnerable in recent weeks, when he has been caught flat-footed on numerous occasions, mistiming his tackles and thus, being an easy target for opposition forwards.
This is another key tussle in tonight’s game, as Mangala likes to confront centre-forwards and is quite keen on jumping into tackles high up the pitch. I would not be surprised if Arsenal look to isolate Mangala, who has won only 37% of his attempted tackles (30) in the league, and get him into 1v1 tussles against Giroud. The French striker, who has scored 6 goals in his last 8 league appearances, may not be the most dynamic of goal scorers, but he has more facets to his game than just goal scoring. He links play for his team and, like Wilfried Bony, thrives on playing with his back to goal. If he can engage Mangala in 1v1 duels, there could be plenty of space in behind the City backline for the likes of Ozil, Bellerin and Joel Campbell to run into. Giroud v Mangala, from a tactical point-of-view, could be a crucial player battle in the final third of the pitch.
Arsenal v Manchester City will be an interesting watch, for every neutral out there. Both teams have so many individual players who are capable of coming up with a game-changing moment or two. In addition, the aforementioned player battles will have a say on which of these two teams takes second spot at the end of the night. Sanchez and Aguero, if they play, will only make this game more interesting than it already promises to be.