Man City-Arsenal: The Battle for CL Positions or Dead Men Walking?

The league title has gone to Leicester City so now it’s about top four positions and next year’s Champions League.

Given how Pep Guardiola’s, er, Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City went out with a whimper in this year’s competition this past Wednesday in Madrid, we have to wonder if anybody really cares.

Gentleman, start your engines… Please.  There is still some football to be played!!

Pellegrini has two matches remaining and, after Saturday’s results, some points he needs to win to keep the other Manchester team below him and what’s left of his team.  United play at West Ham in a make up match in midweek, so if they get a result there, and if City drop points in this one, it could all come down to Pellegrini’s final match, at Swansea City.  Imagine the situation if Pep Guardiola arrives without Champions League football for his new team!

Arsenal’s task is more straightforward.  Tottenham are three points ahead of Arsenal with two matches to play (Southampton at home, Newcastle away).  Given that Spurs dropped points from winning positions to give Leicester the early party, Arsenal have to believe that two victories could make for a very late St. Totteringham’s day, although that could be moot by kickoff time if Spurs can win vs Mauricio Pochettino’s former club.  Even if it isn’t possible, Arsenal need two points to clinch another season of CL football so getting a result in this one is important.  It would be lovely to not need a result on the final day vs already relegated Aston Villa and remain in a position to either nip in over Spurs for second or clinch at least a 3rd place finish.  For those who prefer to imagine the worst, Arsenal could still finish outside the top four, but only if they fail to get those two points and ManU win at West Ham and vs Bournemouth on the final day.

As difficult as it is trying to do the maths (I defer to the English usage today…) it’s probably easier than looking in the mirror and examining the ghosts of what has become of both teams this season.

Manchester City, in the first days of September, were undefeated and had not been scored upon.  Having finalized the transfers of Kevin DeBruyne for 55 million pounds after spending almost that much (49M) on Raheem Sterling, they appeared nailed-on PL champions given the early stumbles of defending champions, Chelsea and other rivals, including Arsenal.  For many observers, it was not a question of winning the league, but what records they might break and what other trophies they would add in (what might become) an historical season.

Indeed, it has been an historical season, but one which will be remembered for the little team that could, Leicester City.  The Northern oilers soon joined the London gas men in opening the door (and fitting some glass slippers) for Leicester’s Cinderella story.

Arsenal would have hoped to have stepped through that door, and, by the turn of the calendar year. we were right there at the top of the table having cemented our position with a very pleasant 2-1 home victory over City at the start of the festive period.  In that one, early goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud put us in control, but a late strike from Yaya Toure made for a nervy finish.  Since the turn of the year all three players have netted only two league goals apiece.

The lack of goals from Ollie and Theo was a big reason our title challenge dissipated but Man City were also unable to mount a charge.  Although they did get a trophy by winning the League Cup, the extra matches probably did not help their efforts in the other competitions.  They went out of the FA Cup with a rotated squad and a 5-1 drubbing at Chelsea while home league losses to West Ham, Liverpool, Leicester, Spurs and Manchester United indicated a frailty in the team that would haunt them even as the progressed in the Champions League.  They were able to get past Dinamo Kiev and Paris St. Germain in that tournament but couldn’t score in either leg of the semi-finals against Pellegrini’s former club, Real Madrid and hardly fashioned any chances.

The 2nd leg was just this past Wednesday so Pellegrini may be tempted to rotate in some better rested players while he must also cope with injuries to David Silva and Vincent Kompany.  With the depth of highly paid professionals at his disposal, City can still turn in a commanding performance if properly motivated.  The players will know that Pep will be watching as he evaluates his bloated squad for next season.  As such, whoever plays will be keen to impress although extra incentive may be on tap for former Arsenal players including fullbacks Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna.  Those two, although nearing the ends of their playing careers, should have secure positions in the squad; Samir Nasri, finishing up another season of injuries and limited playing time, will likely be more desperate.

He may also want to impress his former manager given that Arsenal might be one of only a handful of teams with the funds to take on his pricey contract.  As difficult as Pellegrini’s position has been since the Guardiola announcement, Wenger has similar troubles.  Since he will not go, mollifying supporters will likely require a significant cull of his squad over the summer.  Wenger’s starting eleven in this one will likely be drawn up with both an eye to getting a result and tipping his hand regarding how the team will shape up next season.

The manager has played the same starters in the previous three matches but may want to re-jig into a more defensive shape against a City team, which on their day, can be rampant. In addition to Sergio Aguero, teenager Kelechi Iheanacho has been scoring goals while Wilfried Bony will also want to show that he can still play at this level.

For Arsenal, finally, after five months out, Santi Cazorla is available.  Will Wenger play him alongside Francis Coquelin as he did in this fixture last season?  That match turned out to be a real revival for our club with the Coq-zola pairing at the rear of midfield making us a more solid looking outfit.  Unfortunately, injuries to both players (plus the goals drying up) have brought us to this moment.  My hunch is that Coquelin will get the nod alongside January purchase Mohamed Elneny, but that Cazorla will only get off his bench seat if we need goals in the 2nd half.  Here’s the eleven I think Wenger will choose.

Subs: Ospina, Chambers,Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, Walcott, Giroud

I’ve been calling for Welbeck to start up top (but I’ve been wrong for three in a row), and, despite his winner a week ago vs Norwich City, there’s a notion that, given his long time out due to injury, he cannot give us a strong performance over the full ninety minutes.  As such, Olivier Giroud, buoyed perhaps by the assist he provided for Welbeck when he came on vs Norwich City, could start again instead.  Or might Wenger think that speed on the break plus a bit of pressing the ball at the back (especially given Kompany’s injury) and Theo Walcott up top might be the answer?  What about suggestions that there’s a strain between Alexis Sanchez and Wenger?   The Chilean marched off the pitch and left the dressing room early in the Norwich match.  Could Aaron Ramsey start on the right to try and help Hector Bellerin?

Who knows and your guess is as good as mine.  Our bench has been very forward (and midfield) heavy in recent matches and Wenger might want some extra defensive options on the bench to help preserve a scoreline.  Fit players who are not asked to dress for the match may have to fret about their spot in the squad for next season.

Those sorts signals have to be secondary to trying to get a result.  Still, if neither team can get on top early, I wonder if this one might be played out as a “gentleman’s draw.”  A point each would leave CL football in the hand of both teams going into the final weekend.  Given the ambitions of both clubs and the fact that both will likely be working several new players into their first teams, worries about Champions League qualifiers, I think, are misplaced.  Some believe that finishing 4th and having to play those matches in August make recruiting more difficult.  I disagree.  Bringing in players has more to do with the salaries both clubs can offer and the extra matches, I believe, actually give fringe players a couple of extra opportunities to impress and managers an opportunity to observe them under a bit of pressure.  Of course, others may analyze the situation differently, especially if they enjoy indulging in the worries fomented on the back pages and click-bait web sites.

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?  Please share.

It’s not the title decider we may have hoped it would be when the fixture schedules came out, but there are still things to play for, notably a CL spot and a bit of good feeling heading into what is sure to be a tumultuous summer.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

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32 Responses to Man City-Arsenal: The Battle for CL Positions or Dead Men Walking?

  1. Admir says:

    Excellent preview, 17.

    About the line-up tomorrow… I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger goes with Ramsey on the right wing with Coquelin and Elneny in the middle. Welbeck and Alexis would occupy the other two positions in the attack with Mesut behind them.

    City have been absolutely terrible against teams from top half of the table this season. A single point against Leicester City, a single point against Manchester United, a single point against West Ham, nothing against Spuds and Liverpool with home defeats against each one of aforementioned teams. They have been flat-track bullies which is not a bad thing in Premier League as it’s the goal-difference that is a tie-breaker but for a team that had spent so much money they are most of the time terrible team.

    Stats sometimes can lie and stats say City have the best attack.

    Sergio Agüero is unplayable on his day (like that hat-trick against Chavs away) and head and shoulders above everyone else in the league.

    David Silva is out for the game which means Kevin de Bruyne, the biggest Maureen’s mistake, will do the creative work tomorrow. He is a magnificent player and his injury in League Cup semifinal against Everton was the one that City couldn’t deal with. He may get some help from Samir Nasri who has been experimenting with his hair lately.

    33-year-old Yaya Toure (well, he’ll be 33 in a few days, maybe he’ll even get a cake this time!) has already scored against us this season but he is well past his best.

    Zabaleta and Kompany have been ruled out for the game by Pellegrini as well as Aleksandar Kolarov which means our old pals Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy will protect their flanks. With Otamendi and Mangala in the middle of the defence it could be a busy day for Joe Hart tomorrow even if we haven’t created too many clear-cut chances in the last few games.

    Iheanacho has been a rare silver lining in their season and the only youngster that has made a breakthrough. He has scored 7 league goals this season (he needs 87 minutes per goal) which is quite a feat for a 19-year-old. He is Iwobi’s compatriot which means Nigerians have a lot of reasons to be excited for the next World Cup (or the one in Qatar at least) watching two amazing youngsters scoring and creating goals at the biggest stage.

    Anyway, back to City… Against Real Madrid they lost just 0:1 and could have even snatched a lucky progress to the first ever final had Agüero’s shot gone just a little bit lower. Margins, eh? However, their performance was terrible, they looked like lambs who were satisfied with getting just a bit slaughtered at Santiago Bernabeu even if Real Madrid were not in their best shape. Fernandinho and unlucky scorer of an own goal Fernando came out with some credit from the game. Two of them are hard-working defensive midfielders. I don’t expect Pellegrini to start them both tomorrow but then again, his decisions on rotations have been questioned a few times this season.

    We would get some consolation with a victory tomorrow as it would seal our first finish above City since 2009-10 and, if Koeman gets a point or three at White Hart Lane, a remote chance of ending above our noisy neighbours.

    Wenger’s record against Pellegrini’s City is quite a positive one. They have met six times in competitive matches. Arsenal have won three times, two matches ended as a draw with a sole City victory being the 6:3 bonanza at Etihad in December 2013, mostly thanks to one of the worst refereeing performances I have ever seen (Martin Atkinson was in charge) as Arsenal had a penalty (Zabaleta’s handball), a red card for the opponents (Yaya Toure on Giroud) and a clear goal (Giroud scored after the offside had been called) denied by the refs.

    I hope for a 2:0 victory, goals from Welbeck and Özil.

  2. TotalArsenal says:

    Great seasonal penultimate match preview, Seventeenho 😄⚽️😄⚽️😄⚽️😄⚽️

    Agreed with the line up, but I also think Admir made a good point about Rambo making it three in midfield. A draw would keep us ahead of Citeh so we need to sit back and be compact and kill them off on the counter, which suits Alexis, Ozil. Danny and Rambo to the bone. Really looking fwd to this one. 😄

  3. TotalArsenal says:

    A draw would not suit Citeh as two MU wins would see them qualify for CL, but it would suit us fine. Citeh need to win and the pressure is on them, which should suit us.

  4. njk84sg says:

    With Gabby starting we have yet to see the same defensive stability that has been when Per starts. Even the last game Gabby made a timely block, but that was after great work by Per before he got injured.

    Moving Santi back and replacing Rambo might be just the only stabilising factor we need.

    JK

  5. Pony Eye says:

    Great preview, HT. Top marks also for Admir’s follow up comment.

    A point would see us finish above the two Manchester teams. But can Wenger scheme for a draw? I doubt if that can be found in his DNA. However, I believe he would at least tweak in that direction by bringing in Coquelin and so your line up looks pretty spot on for me, except that l have a strong feeling that Wilshere would be in the line up at the expense of Iwobi whose gotten less influential in our more recent games.

    Wenger knows Manc would be gunning for a win as even a draw might see them drop out of CL. So he (Wenger) might come up with one of his surprises by fielding Walcott ahead of Welbeck to discourage a defensive high line by Manc thereby taking the steam out of their attack. IMO, Welbeck remains a better choice because of his greater general contribution, plus the fact that he has enough speed to trouble any high line defending. Walcott’s poor self confidence ATM, makes it too much of a gamble fielding him.

    Mine line up:

    ———-Cech———
    Bel—Gab–Kos–Nach
    ——Coq——Eln——-
    Alexis—-Jack—-Ozil
    ———–Welbz———-

    With this line up, expect a lot of swapping of positions between Alexis, Jack and Ozil.

  6. Gerry says:

    Great in depth preview HT – I do admire your consistency and stamina. I suspect though you are a bit like some of player the players at the moment, get this one out of the way and there is only one more … Summer here we come!

    Like yourself, I have wanted to get back to that front 4, but have been disappointed each time …
    And like Pony Eye’s suggestion above, I expect to be disappointed again.

    I have had a few of my would-be comments already made by others, especially Admir. However, I do have to laugh at the suggestion that Ramsey would be put in to ‘help Bellerin’? If only …
    I noted TA subtle variation, saying Ramsey as part of the midfield trio … where the sensible place to put him is in the middle, where HE wants to be. Wide right with a ‘free role’ is a disaster for Bellerin, and why the balance of the team gets so disturbed. Ramsey’s instincts to move away from the right means Bells can never get forward with any security. I know you say that somebody should fill in for Ramsey, but if we are attacking the other players have to be mindful of the players who might take advantage of their absence, and if you keep shuffling players across then the whole defensive shape can be in complete disarray with a determined counter attack.

    On your bench, do you think AW will pursue the apparent ‘lost cause’ that is Walcott? Who is not exactly enhancing is sale value either when he plays. I am not sure why you think Gibbs is set to go though. Somebody has to be behind Monreal in the pecking order, unless the ‘incoming’ is to replace him? In which case that will be after next season I would have thought?. In the meantime, Gibbs is the most like for like replacement we have in the squad. Playing fewer games means he has stayed fit, and he doesn’t want to leave?
    Back to the subs of the day, maybe Gnabry is more likely? I saw him in Ozil’s ‘selfie’ the other day, so perhaps he is not far off a return? Not only that, if, heaven forbid, Alexis is really in deep discontent and Wenger drops him, Gnabbers is the ideal sub for him (at his best of course).

    You say Arsenal’s task is straight forward, which is true. Picking the team to achieve that is the bigger problem. My predictions leading up to this game have gone spectacularly wrong, with W Ham losing, Man U winning, the exit from the CL means Man C have everything to play for now. The key players out that Admir also posted are a help, but their replacements are likely to be more motivated. We just have to get this one right.

    By the way Admir, am I right in thinking that one of the two Nigerian 18 year old’s we signed is a cousin(and reportedly, a more talented sibling) to Iheanacho?

    So to conclude my submission. I doubt very much that Santi will get a start today. Too long out and the wrong game to come back in. In fact the aforementioned Gibbs might be more useful on the bench? Wilshere is more likely, especially if Alexis is demoted. Playing instead of Iwobi would be a mistake. PE states Iwobi’s lessening influence as a reason, except I would put that down the lack of Welbeck’s inclusion from the start, as that provides the pace and fluidity that he thrives on, rather than him ‘flattering to deceive’?
    So any variation from HT’s line up will lessen my confidence in even a draw. The idea of a ‘Gentleman’s draw’ does not hold true for the reasons TA gave. Made more pressing by the likelyhood of Man U beating W Ham?

    Play it quickly, play to win.
    Cheers,
    Gerry
    p.s. HT no disagreement on Wilshere, regarding the Norwich video on the previous post. Those one, twos are exactly what I said he is good at. So if he plays today, make it as a second striker 😀

  7. Pony Eye says:

    Sorry, a miscalculation and the correction below:
    A point in today’s match and another point against Aston V will see us finish above the Manchester teams.

  8. TotalArsenal says:

    Do the maths again, PE, and have a little look at MC’s goal difference… 🙄

  9. TotalArsenal says:

    I’d love to see Jack start but it is highly unlikely, unless Wenger wants him to get a meaningful chance to get picked for the Euros

  10. Pony Eye says:

    TA , which are you referring to. My 04:03BST or my 07:38 BST. The former wrong the later spot on.

    Stmpn just pulled a goal back against Spurs at 1-1.

  11. TotalArsenal says:

    You are right PE 😄⚽️, a draw today and next week would be enough; I got it wrong. 😳

  12. TotalArsenal says:

    Wow Spuds lose and we still have a chance to overtake them…. CoyGs

  13. Gerry says:

    Have you seen the team news – Ozil out with a hip injury-or a Wenjury perhaps?
    It is on the Beeb site now

  14. 17highburyterrace says:

    Teams…

    Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy; Fernando, Fernandinho; Navas, De Bruyne, Iheanacho; Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Angelino, Demichelis, Delph, Toure, Sterling, Bony.

    Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Elneny, Ramsey; Welbeck, Iwobi, Sanchez; Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Coquelin, Wilshere, Cazorla, Campbell, Walcott.

    Referee: Anthony Taylor.

  15. Gerry says:

    Gibbs does make the bench, at the expense of Chambers – so Monreal is the replacement CB?
    It is Ramelny as DM
    Iwobi as Ozil
    Alexis left, Welbeck right, Giro middle.
    Beyond Gibbs all out attack; Wilshere, Santi, and JC

  16. Gerry says:

    Better hope Savage is right, and Man C are away on there hols already???

    Bacs and Debruine v Bellerin, and Clichy and Navas v Nacho …

    Where is that bobble hat I better get it warmed up in case of any warm accidents!

  17. 17highburyterrace says:

    Very quick start for City with Arsenal hardly able to get it out of our half…

    Cheers for the comments…

    And now City take the lead on an Aguero left footer… Elneny needed to get tighter to the ball…

  18. 17highburyterrace says:

    1-1 Giroud header from the corner Clichy gifted us…

  19. 17highburyterrace says:

    Welbeck has done his knee… Not good…Jack to sub in…

  20. Pony Eye says:

    What is happening!

  21. 17highburyterrace says:

    The game’s a bit out of control with the usual difficult to decipher decisions of ref Taylor at the center of things… The pace is such that neither team seems to want to settle the ball in the center of the pitch…

    Nice tackle in the box from Rambo after Navas waltzes in… Corner taken short and we look extremely exposed but Mangala heads out…

  22. allezkev says:

    Sounded on the radio like the physio was testing the outside of Welbecks knee, that could be an ACL problem, doesn’t sound good… ☹️

  23. Pony Eye says:

    I feel we haven’t gotten our passing game going. They are chocking our transition attempts.

  24. 17highburyterrace says:

    That seems about right PE…and, indeed, Welbeck’s injury doesn’t seem good… Hopefully we can adjust for the 2nd period…

  25. allezkev says:

    Early days I know 17tino, but how has Jack looked so far…

    Great post btw…

  26. 17highburyterrace says:

    DeBruyne scores waaayy too easily….Gabriel nutmegged and the daisy cutter went just between Cech and his near post… Not good…

    To m, Jack looks good but we’ve yet to look like we can together more than a couple of passes…

    Iheanacho lets us off with a poor toepoke leading a break…

  27. 17highburyterrace says:

    Theo on for Iwobi…

  28. 17highburyterrace says:

    2-2 ALEXIS!!! What a layoff (1-2) by Giroud!!

  29. 17highburyterrace says:

    Awesome 1-2 between El Kun and DeBruyne but it’s dragged just wide…

  30. 17highburyterrace says:

    Coq in for Elneny… I guess we’re gonna play for the draw… That said, if Theo could find a good final ball we might already be ahead…

  31. 17highburyterrace says:

    Oh my…Bony’s volley comes off the bar…

  32. 17highburyterrace says:

    Finishes 2-2…Not exactly a gentleman’s draw…

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