With the leaders set to travel to the most difficult venue in the league, Goal's Brendon Netto suggests that Arsenal may practice caution as they have of late.
Two things are certain in the Premier League at the moment – Arsenal are firmly on top and Manchester City are on the rise. The Gunners have played some scintillating football to remain at the summit of England’s elite division so far but have seemed to adopt a more measured approach in their last few performances while City are gathering pace.
The two sides face each other at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday in what should be an intriguing encounter given City’s incredible form at home this season and Arsenal’s commanding start to the campaign.
The Londoners’ 2-0 defeat in the Champions League away to Napoli spoke volumes of their growing desire to simply get the job done. They were alive to the fact that only a 3-0 loss would see them miss out on a place in the round of 16 and that was evident in the restraint they practiced.
The ability to be more pragmatic in favour of achieving the desired result is hardly a weakness but in Naples, that ploy nearly cost Arsenal. They shaded the possession, enjoying 53% of the ball but put a lid on the swashbuckling football that has been a feature of their season so far.
Arsenal stood off Napoli & nearly paid the price
As a result, despite seeing more of the ball, they mustered only one shot on target over the course of ninety minutes at the Stadio San Paolo. They also failed to win a single corner in the game and made only 6 attempts at goal as opposed to Napoli’s 13.
Arsenal still progressed in the end but not only did they nearly get eliminated embarrassingly but they also forfeited the chance to get at least a point out of the game and top the group. Instead, they finished second and will now have to face one of the other group winners namely, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona.
On the other hand, City produced a remarkable comeback to beat Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena but find themselves in the same position as Arsenal for the next round having finished second in their group as well due to goal difference.
It’s possible that Manuel Pellegrini miscalculated the goals they needed in order to top the group as he intimated in his post-match comments that 5-2 would have been a hard score-line to achieve and so he didn’t bring Sergio Aguero on but in reality, they had to win 4-2 and therefore only needed one more goal.
City showed their strength in victory over Bayern
Despite that blunder on the touchline, City were impressive on the pitch and enjoying 50% of possession against Pep Guardiola’s side was no mean feat. They also did well to register 8 attempts at goal as opposed to the home side’s 11 and were the more clinical team. That result in Europe came after a good run of form in the domestic league as well which has seen them surge to fourth in the table.
City’s form at home in the league has been intimidating to say the least. In 9 games, they’ve maintained a perfect win record, scoring 29 goals at an average of 3.22 goals per game and have conceded just twice. Arsenal will be wary of the threat they pose at home especially after the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were annihilated at the same venue.
Meanwhile, City’s away form is on the up as well, serving as further indication that they are building up a head of steam. They battled to a 3-2 win against West Bromwich Albion on the road before earning a healthy point when they drew 1-1 with Southampton. Despite dropping points at Saint Mary’s, it was a good result to pick up especially since they were only undone by an exquisite solo effort from Dani Osvaldo.
In Arsenal’s last league encounter, they were cautious of Everton’s counter-attacking play. Even though Roberto Martinez’s men did get some joy on the break, they could have had more had Arsenal left themselves open.
Will Arsenal opt to protect their advantage?
Everton had controlled possession for long periods in that game but while the Arsenal of old would have been hasty and impatient in their efforts to get on the ball again, the current group of players kept their shape and that shows maturity.
Perhaps we’re beginning to see a more calculative side to the north Londoners because they are finally in a position from where they have a lot to lose. They have a great chance to win the league at the moment and are alive in the Champions League and FA Cup as well.
City are currently six points adrift of Arsenal but if they beat the league leaders, they will go within three points of them and the pressure will be back on Arsene Wenger and his troops. For that reason, Arsenal know that it’s vital that they avoid defeat at all costs.
It’s safe to say that it’s more important for Arsenal not to lose this game than win it, just like it was more important to avoid that 3-0 score-line in Naples than make every effort to get a result and ensure their progress as group leaders. In Saturday’s early kick-off, we may not see the fearless Arsenal team that’s taken the league by storm this season but may have to bear witness to a more calculative one that will strive to protect their six-point advantage.
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