Manchester City gained a much-needed win on Wednesday, ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Arsenal, beating Watford 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. Can you say that City “warmed up” for Sunday’s clash against the Gunners? You really can’t, because Wednesday’s hosts had to work quite hard to secure all three points and their first Premier League win at home since September 17th.
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Notwithstanding Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the summer, City remain an enigma!
You can provide a narrative for each one of this Premier League season’s title contenders, but with Manchester City, you can never be sure of what they might dish out on a given day.
Arsenal: The North Londoners are a consistent side these days and over the last couple of seasons, have played well in the big games and improved their record in the same, too. Their football, needless to say, is a treat to the eye and Arsenal have shown many good signs of mounting a proper title challenge this season.
Chelsea: Despite the managerial change, the West Londoners remain a defensively solid and clinical attacking side, vindicated by their keeping eight clean sheets over the course of their current 10-game winning streak. They seem utterly unstoppable at the moment and Antonio Conte has stamped his authority on a largely similar Chelsea to the team who finished 10th in the Premier League last season.
Liverpool: The Reds are a dynamic side who have, so far this season, been devastating going forward, justified by their tally of 40 goals in 16 Premier League fixtures—the highest in the league. Their defence and goalkeeping position are a cause for concern, but Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have been exhilarating to watch.
Manchester United: We will not be wrong in saying that the Red Devils have lost their identity over the last three seasons and continue their transitional phase under Jose Mourinho.
Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s men made an emphatic start to the ongoing Premier League season and what stood out was their high-pressing game, through which they suffocated City to death in October, beating Guardiola’s men 2-0 at White Hart Lane. Spurs are currently enduring an extremely bad spell, which has seen them drop out of the UEFA Champions League and outside the top four in the Premier League.
Of the many challenges that Guardiola has to rise up to as Manchester City manager, providing his new club an identity has to be the primary of the lot. Because currently, unlike four of their five major opponents, the Cityzens are bereft of an identity and continue to under-achieve, by a long margin.
Two ‘Ps’ have undermined Manchester City’s imperious start to Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad: Porousness and Profligacy.
The City backline, in the presence and absence of Vincent Kompany, has been extremely porous in recent seasons and one of the reasons for the current form slump is the propensity of the backline to be easy to score against. At the other end of the pitch, City have struggled to score goals and as a result of which, failed to put games to bed and claim all three points more often.
Taking into account Manchester City’s current form guide, which reads five wins in their last 16 games across all competitions, this Sunday’s showdown with Arsenal has gathered tremendous significance.
Arsene Wenger v Pep Guardiola Head-to-Head Record
These two protagonists of attractive football have met eight times before, with the Arsenal manager winning two, drawing two and losing four against the current Manchester City manager. Sunday’s game will, of course, be the first time this managerial duo meet in the Premier League.
Manchester City v Arsenal, 18th December 2016
Don’t get me wrong… for I am not saying Manchester City need to win against Arsenal because they have registered only five victories in their last 16 fixtures or that a defeat here will see the Premier League leaders Chelsea pull 10 points ahead and put the title seemingly out of the 2013-14 English Champions’ grasp.
But Sunday’s clash against the Gunners is multidimensionally significant for Guardiola’s men.
Manchester City are really low on confidence after two heavy defeats in consecutive league games, against Chelsea (1-3) and defending champions Leicester City (4-2). And, although Guardiola’s side exuded a bit of attacking fluency on Wednesday night against Watford, theirs was not a complete and assertive performance, the kind which often provides a confidence boost.
Not only will the players’ confidence levels be low after those defeats but also, Guardiola has had his philosophy and acumen questioned, by critics and Manchester City fans alike. So, a win against Arsenal this Sunday will not only be a suitable riposte to the naysayers but also do the confidence of the players and their manager a world of good!
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Far too often in recent seasons, Manchester City have taken a pounding against good counter-attacking teams and the home and away defeats to Chelsea and Leicester, respectively, were highly pertinent examples of City’s tendency.
Arsenal have the tools required to unsettle and potentially heap more misery on this Sunday’s hosts: the North Londoners have pace in abundance, possess a well-settled backline headed by Laurent Koscielny and carry a psychological edge over City because of their recent head-to-head record (two wins and three draws since the thumping 6-3 defeat at the Etihad in December 2013).
And, because they have fleet-footed personnel such as Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Hector Bellerin, Arsenal can actually follow the blueprints of Chelsea and Leicester, who were unperturbed by Manchester City dominating possession and showed their ruthlessness on the break, to continue their recent dominance over the Blues. Because this Arsenal side are tactically a lot more flexible, they are likely to make life extremely difficult for an out of form City.
Which is why a win for Manchester City will give them tremendous satisfaction and boost.
Manchester City had a dismal record against last season’s top eight teams, winning just one of their 14 fixtures and losing as many as nine games.
Manchester City haven’t improved much on that front this season either, justified by their registering just two wins in five fixtures so far—Chelsea (L), Spurs (L), Manchester United (W), West Bromwich Albion (W), and Everton (D)—against the top eight teams on the 2016-17 Premier League table.
Mind you, Manchester City have a herculean task against Arsenal this Sunday, but multiple incentives are on offer as well if they can win: overtake Arsenal, who are currently third on the Premier League table after losing 2-1 to Everton on Tuesday night, gain a significant boost in confidence and a reassurance that the philosophy you are following is the right one and should, therefore, be persevered with.
Talking about the incentives on offer for beating Arsenal,
Manchester City are missing four of their indispensable personnel—Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan, and Vincent Kompany, in the order of their significance to the side—and they have a tendency to rely quite heavily on individual quality and moments of individual brilliance to win games and competitions.
In the absences of the aforementioned quartet, Manchester City need to produce a team effort to beat the ever-attractive Arsenal side. Therefore, a victory this Sunday will provide a significant shot in the arm for Guardiola and co.
Arsenal are the favourites for this Sunday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium. As aforementioned, they have an identity which Guardiola and co. lack currently. And, although Arsenal too, like City, have not fared as well as they would have liked to in their games against the current top eight—winning only one (Chelsea), drawing two (Spurs and United) and losing two (Everton and Liverpool) of the five fixtures so far—the Gunners do not have a confidence crisis to address and as a unit, Arsene Wenger and co. have been largely solid.
Dear reader, make use of the comments section below and tell us how you foresee Sunday’s showdown at the Etihad.