I have no doubt that this afternoon's opponents, Manchester City presents us with our toughest test in this new season for a number of reasons; they are the current champions, the game is in their own backyard and they are known to employ financial dope to improve their performance on the pitch. In fact it's a game that we can't complain about if we come out with a draw and a win will be considered a massive result.
Liverpool away was a tough test in its own way but they are not the league champions and they are a team in transition, struggling for consistency while trying to adapt to a new football philosophy being taught by a new manager. We exploited that vulnerability effectively.
City on the other hand does not have the same hang-up as they have stabilized enough since the injection of Arab money in 2008 to win the league title last season. For a club that was playing in the third tier of English football as recently as 1998 they have come a long way. The core of the team has played long enough together to adapt a style of football -which is no style- that works for them. There's no denying the rich array of talents that's available for selection on any given day. A team that can afford not to name Ballotelli in their squad against Real Madrid even though he was fit and available and still had Dzeko and Aguero on the bench.We'll be facing one of the most expensively gathered teams in world football -one that is financially doped up to the hilt.
This afternoon they'll have pride at stake when they face us as they look to defend an enviable home record of thirty-one home games without a loss -won 29 and drew 2. Also at stake is their status as defending champions. In short, we are up against "it" and we'll be needing all of that famous Steve Bould know-how for all of ninety minutes without letting if we are going to get back to London with a result.
In our favour is the renewed confidence of more than a decent start to the season -unbeaten in our first five games- and miserly defending that has seen us concede only one goal in the Premier League and another one from a penalty kick in the Champions League. More so, we go into the fixture as clear underdogs which should serve to take the pressure off of us.
Also City goes into this fixture on the back of a 3-2 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League in a game they led 2-1 up to the 87th minute and then crumbled in bizarre circumstances to let in two goals in the dying minutes. Hart criticized his team mates after the game for which Mancini was quick to put him in his place. We'll be hoping that some of that disaffection and disharmony spills into today's game.
Team news-wise, Szczesny is the only notable absentee from the team that started the season as he has been ruled out for about three weeks with an ankle injury he sustained in the game against Southampton so Don Vito
Every other person is available for selection so we should see our strongest eleven -not counting the long term injured- line out. Mannone, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaleen, Gibbs, Arteta, Diaby, Podolski, Cazorla, Ox/Theo, Gervinho/Giroud should constitute the starting eleven while Shea, Ramsey, Coquelin, Santos, Arshavin, Koscielney will take their places on the bench.
To stand any chance of getting a result today, we'll need a 100% focus for all of ninety minutes and then some. An early goal will do us a hell of a lot of good to calm nerves and allow us the freedom to play our possession game which will frustrate City and hopefully make them vulnerable to further mistakes. City will not let up for a second if they go a goal down and with pride at stake they will fight with the last available drop of blood. As we have done so well this season, the team must be tactically disciplined and maintain their shape at all times -City has the quality to exploit any mistakes on our part.
Tevez, Aguero, Balotelli or Dzeko -whichever one of them starts- will present the kind of challenge to our backline that we have not encountered this season so Diaby will do well to pay a lot more attention to defending and help Arteta with breaking down their attacks and the supply to the front men.
Winning at City will provide a confidence boost going forward but can hardly guarantee the title. Losing will in no way define our season as this is only the fifth game of the season but the manner in which we lose can do a lot of damage to the confidence of the team which is on a high at the moment. For the first time in a long time, the team is showing the kind of self-assurance that wins titles with pundits even giving us the outside chance of a shot at the title this season. All that can change in a second if we get over-run at city. Doubt will creep in and recovery may be slow.
Enough of the defeatist talk, we are the Arsenal and we have Poldi, Cazorla and Gervinho and other guns that we haven't even fired yet in the armoury. It will be a tough battle but we are up for it.
4pm today. It's City Away, Gooners! We'll be updating via Twitter before, during and after the game. Stay with us!
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