With seven points out of nine over the festive period, Arsene Wenger will claim that his rotation policy was correct, the players he rested against Wigan having come back and produced the goods against Birmingham. Sceptics may insist that two points were needlessly lost at the DW Stadium, but either way the Gunners are handily placed in third, two points behind the two Manchester clubs and very definitely in the title race.
They should be confident that they can make it three wins out of four going into this clash against City, not only because they were impressive in sweeping aside defending champions Chelsea 3-1 on their last appearance at Ashburton Grove; but also because they achieved an emphatic 3-0 victory over Roberto Mancini’s side when the clubs met at Eastlands in October.
That win was Arsenal’s first in four league and cup games against City, but more ominously for City, they haven’t beaten the Gunners in London since a 3-2 win back in October 1975. Arsenal have won 21 of the 28 league and cup home games against City since then.
However, Wenger frequently points out that history has no real relevance to the next match, and he will be looking for his players to maintain their focus, show further evidence of their growing mental and physical resilience, and above all claim the three points against one of their most serious rivals.
The Gunners boast the best away record in the Premier League (21 points to City’s 20), but have proved vulnerable at home, losing three times, and Wenger will be anxious to ensure his team do not squander any more points at the Emirates.
With cup commitments accounting for their next two fixtures, he will demand a defensively sound, mature, winning performance against City.
City Looking To Make Major Statement In Title Race
Seeking their first win at Arsenal in more than three decades on Wednesday, City’s main objective will be to defeat a major competitor and make a big statement in this season’s exciting battle for top-flight supremacy.
Buoyed by three straight wins, and level on points with neighbours and arch-rivals Manchester United, City go into this contest with the belief that they can win the title. They are now firmly established among the leading five clubs and find themselves in the strongest position they’ve enjoyed at the start of a new year since the Premier League was formed.
Their challenge now is to build on that position on a ground where they have never won. And defender Jerome Boateng reflected the positivity within the squad regarding the task at hand.
Talking to City’s official website, Boateng said: “Arsenal’s players have played many years together at their club and you can see that on the pitch in the way that they move for one another. It is a difficult game for us but it will be difficult for them too.
“When we played them here [at Eastlands] earlier in the season I don’t think we were any worse than them and we had only ten men for most of the game [following Dedryk Boyata’s fifth minute dismissal]. Now we want to play them with 11.
“I don’t believe in bogey teams or jinxes and things like that, I only look to the next game. That City has not won in Arsenal for a long time makes no difference to what might happen on Wednesday night.
“We must just work hard together to make sure we continue our winning run. It is true we have played better away from home sometimes. I don’t know why.
“I think if you look at the home game with Arsenal in the first half each team had six chances to score. In the second half it was difficult because they made their extra man count by moving us around the pitch and we became tired. We are looking forward to the game.”
City’s assistant manager, Brian Kidd, who played for both clubs in the 1970s, commented: “All games are big. It is another three points up for grabs just the same as Blackpool. They [Arsenal] beat us fair and square in the first game but I repeat that I wouldn’t change our squad for any other. I don’t fear any team in the league.
“It seems ridiculous that we haven’t won there since the 1970s but that has to end sometime.”
The Gunners came through a bruising encounter against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s with three points and no new injury problems – despite having to contend with some dubious challenges, notably Roger Johnson’s poor tackle on Cesc Fabregas, and Lee Bowyer’s stamp on Bacary Sagna, who also felt Bowyer’s studs raked down the back of his leg.
“Apart from a few bruises we are all right from Birmingham,” a relieved Arsene Wenger told the club’s official website.
The Frenchman also reported that left-back Kieran Gibbs is returning to full training this week and may make the squad for the FA Cup Third Round tie against Leeds United on Saturday. Gibbs has been out since injuring his ankle against Partizan Belgrade on December 8.
Other than that only Manuel Almunia (ankle), Abou Diaby (calf) and Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) remain sidelined through injury.
Wenger may well select the starting XI that beat Chelsea and Birmingham, which means he would have the likes of Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin available on the bench.
Possible starting XI: Fabianski; Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Song, Wilshere; Walcott, Fabregas, Nasri; Van Persie.
Manager Roberto Mancini will take his team to north London seeking to make it four wins out of four over the holiday period, but will have to assess the fitness of three potentially key players before they travel.
Controversial Italian striker Mario Balotelli injured his knee during the 4-0 win over Aston Villa on December 28, a game in which he scored a hat-trick, and consequently missed Saturday’s 1-0 win against Blackpool. However, City are hopeful he will have recovered in time to face Arsenal.
Spanish midfielder David Silva also suffered a knee knock and was substituted by James Milner after 64 minutes against Blackpool. With Silva’s participation in doubt for Wednesday, Milner could face the Gunners from the start.
A bone spur and bruised heel has kept former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor out of action recently, and could prevent him appearing against his old club.
Another ex-Arsenal man, Kolo Toure, has completed a three-match suspension and is available again, which could put Joleon Lescott’s place in jeopardy.
And former Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira, who has featured in each of City’s last three games, starting against Villa, is expected to be among the substitutes again.
Michael Johnson remains sidelined by a knee injury.
Possible starting XI: Hart; Boateng, K Toure, Kompany, Kolarov; De Jong, Barry; A Johnson, Y Toure, Milner; Tevez.