Arsenal play host to Manchester City on Sunday in what’s shaping up to be an intriguing tie. Even though the visitors are the reigning Premier League champions and are currently 11 points better off in the table than their London-based counterparts, this encounter is still a close one to call primarily because the two sides haven’t been separated by much this season.
When Arsenal travelled to the Etihad Stadium in September, there was nothing to choose between the sides as goals from their center-backs, Joleon Lescott and Laurent Koscielny resulted in a 1-1 final score. In fact, you could make the argument that the Gunners probably shaded the contest on that occasion and were the better side for large spells in the match.
Koscielny's goal levelled the previous tie
The visitors dominated the first half but didn’t put away their chances before letting in a soft goal when Lescott was afforded a free header from a corner, courtesy of Arsenal’s zonal marking system. The Champions continued to underwhelm in the second period and Arsenal were good value for their equalizer but probably should have come away with all three points.
Arsene Wenger’s troops enjoyed 59% of the possession in that fixture, very impressive for an away side. The rest of the figures were quite similar on the day although it was back when Abou Diaby and Santi Cazorla were dominating in midfield early in the campaign but over the course of the season, the stats of the two sides have remained eerily similar.
The figures that stand out are those of the goals scored and goals conceded by both teams this term. Second-placed Manchester City have scored 41 goals and conceded 19 this season while sixth-placed Arsenal have scored 40 goals and conceded 22 having played a game less. Astonishingly, those figures are nearly identical and for all the criticism piled onto the North London club this season, they still have the third best defensive and offensive records in the league.
So despite being almost on par with the best defenses and attacks in England’s top flight, why aren’t they higher up the table instead of being a massive 18 points behind league leaders, Manchester United?
Like City, Arsenal have dished out a few thrashings this season. The Citizens have won by a margin of three or more goals thrice during this league campaign while Arsenal have done so on four occasions. However, the telling difference is that while the defending champions have managed to win by the single decisive goal six times so far, their hosts on Sunday have accomplished the same only twice.
Arsenal have conceded first 8 times this season but rallied to win those games only twice, losing half of them. Meanwhile, City have also gone behind in 8 games this season but have won thrice and lost only twice.
What it comes down to is that Arsenal have scored a huge chunk of their goals against teams who were already beaten. They plundered five goals against Tottenham, six against Southampton and a whopping seven against Newcastle United. That’s nearly half the goals they’ve scored in the league so far.
City have been able to come back in games
City on the other hand have engineered a knack for scoring vital goals. Edin Dzeko has been a successful plan B for them so often this season, coming off the bench to grab all three points or salvage a draw. Although it must be pointed out that when Arsenal have been looking for a goal they haven’t had the luxury of calling upon Dzeko or Javier Hernandez for that matter to make an impact. Instead, Wenger has only turned around to see the likes of Gervinho or Marouane Chamakh seated on his bench.
Despite their shortcomings this season, City still deserves credit for their resilience and winning mentality, something they no doubt picked up during their title-winning campaign last time around. At the moment, that is the glaring difference between them and Arsenal. You could argue that City may edge it when it comes to that extra bit of quality in the final third but apart from that, there’s actually not much between the two sides.
On Sunday, the champions will be without two of their most important players. Yaya Toure will be missing on account of the African Cup of Nations while Sergio Aguero’s hamstring injury has ruled him out as well. Without Toure, Arsenal may be able to gain the upper hand in midfield while their home advantage should give them a boost as well, ensuring that contest remains a close one.
|Who do you think will come out on top on Sunday? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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