It’s Manchester City we face this weekend and, while our recent displays hardly fill me with confidence of any kind, there are nonetheless two circumstances which make me feel slightly better going into this game: City are a big team and they have been even more crap than we’ve been in the league this year.
Regarding my first statement: City play an attacking brand of football. They won’t put ten men behind the ball and see whether we can break through their defense. As we’ve been culpable of dropping points exactly against teams that sit deep, I’m a bit relieved we won’t have this problem on Sunday.
Regarding my second statement: while City are only just below us, with three points separating the teams, their record against the top 8 is atrocious. Indeed, they have only one win against such sides: their early-season win over Southampton. In the other 12 games City only garnered 2 (!) points: drawing vs Leicester and United away.
Let’s shoot to the team news, I guess.
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Two players will miss this game: Per Mertesacker and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In fact, both will miss the rest of the season (sounds scary, but we all know it’s just two games). Per has damaged his hamstring. Ox suffered a setback in training days ago:
“We have lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the week because he got a knee injury. He has injured his medial ligament in his right knee and will be out for six to eight weeks I think. Alex was back in full training when he picked up this new injury, which is not linked to his previous knee injuries”.
Wenger then went on to confirm Ox will miss the Euros. This is not just really sad, I think this should also provide the manager with food for thought regarding his summer transfer activity. I cannot state unequivocally, like I can with Walcott, that Ox should be sold, but still. His inconsistency and perennial injuries are becoming a nuisance.
What with City, they’ll have to make do without Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and probably Aleksandar Kolarov. That means Navas on the wing (who should be relatively easy for Monreal to defend against) and a weakened defense. This might also mean Sagna and Clichy will be jaded, like the rest of the team, because they’ve all played against Real on Wednesday. I do not think Pellegrini will rotate his side against us, it’s a game City have to win much more than we do.
For the first time in quite a bit I’m not sure what team Wenger will field. I’m pretty sure Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky won’t make the squad, as won’t Gibbs, so there’s only one bone of contention: Walcott or Campbell. For me this is a no-brainer: the Costa-Rican deserves a spot on the bench much more than his counterpart. However I have a feeling Wenger will disagree.
But beyond our back five, Ozil and Alexis, I’m not sure who will start. While I’d like to see Chambers alongside Kos, unfortunately I don’t think Wenger will drop Gabriel to the bench. Hence no questions about our back five.
I’d say our best bet is to go back to Coquelin and Cazorla in the middle, but the Spaniard may not be fit enough. In which case Elneny is the most sensible partner for Coq. I also think this Giroud thing up front doesn’t work at all, so Welbeck should start.
That leaves us with a selection dilemma for the left flank, and here I’d be tempted to start Wilshere. He’s fit, he’s played a bit already and he is a safer bet than Iwobi. Let’s hope Wenger will do something like this:
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Kos – Monreal – Coquelin – Elneny/Cazorla – Alexis – Ozil – Wilshere – Welbeck
I’m a bit less worried about playing City right now as I would be about a side facing relegation, or a team fighting for Europa League. Partly because City players look like they can’t be arsed. Partly because I know we’ll have the space to attack them.
However, there might be a hidden motivation for City players to run around a bit: it’s Pellegrini’s final home game. I think City’s slump is linked heavily to the announcement that Manuel will leave in June: it affected the players who seem to be on very good terms with the Chilean.
So I sincerely hope the Gunners up their game, Not least because a win guarantees us third place. Also because a win might give us a chance to go second come 15th May, provided Spurs drop points vs Southampton (which is not out of the realms of possibility: they have just suffered a demoralising draw and lost Dembele to a 6-game ban, on top of one already handed to Alli).
So come on you Gunners. Win, and take us one game closer to the end.