Both Manchester City and Arsenal have to cope without important players at the Etihad on Sunday. When it comes to creativity there will still be an abundance of talent on display. And with both defences looking sloppy lately we could be in for a high-scoring showdown in the title race. Who will hold their nerve and claim the points?
With Ighalo leading the attack you can bet that Watford had a similar plan in mind to the one that wrecked City’s defence in their disaster at Leicester.
But on Wednesday night the Citizens were careful and professional, with Yaya Touré offering a disciplined, muscular presence in a deeper role than he’d played so far under Guardiola this season.
If City can replicate Wednesday’s second half performance on Sunday they could make inroads against a demoralised Arsenal team.
All of the midfielders were in sparkling form, but Raheem Sterling caught the eye with some moments of brilliance. His growing connection with de Bruyne is also one of the success stories of City’s season.
And on Tuesday night Arsenal looked uncomfortable trying to contain Everton’s wingplay, so City could find a lot of room on the flanks if they can work the ball quickly by the touchlines.
City knew what they were getting, having signed İlkay Gündoğan while he was dealing with a long-term injury. In the Watford win the midfielder limped off in tears, which surely hints at another lay-off.
The immediate consequences are pretty dire, as Fernandinho is still serving a suspension. Fernando came on to replace him on Wednesday and did well, but is behind both Gündoğan and Fernandinho for a good reason.
The winger is a dead cert to start up front against Arsenal on Sunday. Iheanacho would have been the obvious candidate, but was so ineffective in the Leicester debacle that it looks like Guardiola has lost faith in him.
It’s a pattern that has been repeated for all of City’s young talent. Few of the homegrown players have had a chance under the new manager. This is surprising as Guardiola was always ready to turn to the youth ranks at Barcelona and Bayern.
The obvious answer is that City don’t have the same quality, but it might also say something about the pressure Guardiola is under to get results.
Playing out from the back makes sense because if it’s done properly you can create a numerical advantage once you work the ball into midfield. But naturally there’s a danger in playing short passes at the back, as we saw from Vardy’s third in the Leicester game.
Arsenal aren’t big pressers, but in Alexis Sánchez they do have a forward who chases every everything. The Chilean seized on mistakes against West Ham and Bournemouth, so Claudio Bravo and co. will need to be crisp with their distribution or pay the price.
Predicted Manchester City Teamsheet:
Claudio Bravo; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Kolarov, Clichy; Touré, Fernando; Sterling, de Bruyne, David Silva; Nolito
Bad Old Days?
The loss away to Everton caught us off guard and reminded us of the worst things about Arsenal in the last decade or so. The Gunners were in control before meekly losing their grip on the match.
With a bit more resilience and better finishing the Wenger’s side could have easily got the win. Early in the second half Özil could have done better from the edge of the area when he casually side-footed the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Theo Walcott is the kind of player who will be on the margins of a match all night before showing up out of nowhere to score. It makes sense because his game is about movement and adding the final touches rather than participating in attacking moves from the start.
This is all fine if the man on the other wing is able to influence the game a bit more. When it comes to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, that’s a match-to-match question.
Because you don’t know if you’re going to get the untidy Oxlade-Chamberlain who toiled against Coleman and Gueye on Tuesday night, or the rampant player who took Stoke apart a few days before.
If the Ox is off his game it makes the wings almost redundant. And if Wenger wants Arsenal to work the ball better in wide areas, it might be worth dropping Walcott, switching the Ox to the right and bringing in Iwobi.
The youngster takes care of the ball better than both of his teammates, and in a setup that treasures possession it’s surprising that he’s lost his place in the team recently.
Lucas Worth a Look?
Wenger has a reputation for giving players time to get acclimatised to the Premier League. He once gave the Brazilian midfielder Edu half a season off after he arrived in England for personal difficulties.
Lucas Pérez though looked very sharp in the win at Basel recently. He might not be ready to start alone up front, but could easily take Walcott’s place on the right. He also looks like someone who would combine well with Alexis Sánchez, making central runs when the Chilean comes deep to get the ball.
You can put money on Shkodran Mustafi’s injury harming Arsenal. The Gunners went 14 matches unbeaten in the league with him in partnering Koscielny.
So it might not be a coincidence that they slumped to a defeat the moment he got injured. The German centre-half will miss all of the Christmas period, and would have been invaluable against City’s pacy and unpredictable attackers.
Arsenal Predicted Teamsheet:
Cech; Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Özil, Iwobi; Alexis Sánchez
When Will Manchester City vs Arsenal Take Place?
The match will be played on Sunday December 18 at 16:00 GMT.
Manchester City vs Arsenal Match Prediction
The difficulty in predicting this one is working out whether Arsenal’s defeat at Everton will bring on the usual malaise. In the past Arsenal have gone several weeks without finding their mojo. If this happens again they’ll be a much simpler opponent than Guardiola might have expected.
But given that City have problems of their own, missing three key performers in Fernandinho, Gündoğan and Agüero, a draw feels like the safest option on Sunday. Arsenal can do damage against City’s defence but won’t have the staying power to put the game to bed.
We’re tipping a 1-1 draw at the Etihad.
Meanwhile, for some lunchtime reading, we’ve compiled a map of all the kit manufacturers for UEFA national sides.