Inside the Opposition

Inside the Opposition: City vs. Arsenal (Predicted XI, Man to Watch, Opposition View)

Following a historic win in Naples on Wednesday night, City play host to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in what promises to be an exciting encounter at the Etihad.

The Gunners travel to Manchester on the back of four league wins in the last five, an impressive month or so following a poor start to the season. As it stands, no one has been able to stop Pep Guardiola’s side this season, but the last side to do so was Arsenal in the FA cup semi-final defeat in April.

Arsene Wenger admitted that if he sat back and parked the bus against City, his side would just be picked apart. He stated “the best form of defence is attack”, indicating that his side will look to exploit gaps left in the City back line with his pacey front three.

Let’s have a look inside the opposition…

Predicted line-up

Arsene Wenger’s preferred formation seems to be the 3-4-3, with a formidable trio of Ozil, Sanchez and Lacazette spearheading the side. Although the front three have enjoyed limited game time together, there is no doubt this is Wenger’s best attacking line.

Alexis and Ozil will come in narrow and look to cut into shooting positions, meanwhile Bellerin and Kolasinac will offer the width from their wing-back roles, which they are getting better at by the game.

It is the middle of the park where the game will be won or lost for City, with Arsenal usually opting for Ramsey and Xhaka. The pair have blown hot and cold a lot in recent months, having an outstanding game one week then a quiet one the next.

At the back, Wenger will choose Koscielny, Mertesacker and Monreal, who are growing as a defensive unit in the back three.

One to watch

Now, I could dedicate this section to Alexis Sanchez, who will most probably score and celebrate, amidst ongoing speculation over his future that could well be in Manchester. I won’t do that. The one to watch this week is Mesut Özil.

The German midfielder had a very quiet 2016/17 season, and many suggested he had lost his form, and that his best days were a thing of the past.

However, I watched him against Everton a fortnight ago and he was outstanding, probably his best performance in over a year. He has the ability to find and exploit little pockets that few players have the vision to do.

His penetrative and incisive passing is so difficult to defend against. In the first half alone against Everton, he created six chances, adding to his assist tally.

Just like we saw on Wednesday in the San Paolo, when De Bruyne started to play his game, City seemed to wake up. This is the case with Özil, when he plays at his best, Arsenal begin to breathe. City will have to be switched on at the back to nullify this threat.

A view from the opposition

Ahead of the clash, I caught up with Redbrick Sport Paper editor and podcast contributor Alex Alton to catch his views as an Arsenal fan on their season so far, Arsene Wenger and the game on Sunday in general.

Views on Arsenal’s start to the season

Rather mixed. We’ve done well in games I thought we would falter in (draw against Chelsea), and played embarrassingly in ones that I would expect a result from (Liverpool and Watford). It’s hardly surprising though. A distinct lack of defensive depth and midfield grit has meant we’ve been a little underwhelming so far.

Does this Arsenal team lack quality, or is it Wenger’s fault they are underperforming? Would a new manager be able to get better from the current crop?

Perhaps the squad lacks quality insofar as it has lost its identity in recent seasons. Even in previous seasons where qualifying for the Champions League was the minimum objective, you got the feeling that there was a core of players who understood Wenger’s ethos and that resulted in a better standard of play. A new manager would significantly change this side, I think. We all know Wenger is stuck in his ways, sometimes making irrational decisions. I suspect a manager that mixed things up would do better than one who was simply a continuation of Wenger, e.g. Diego Simeone, rather than an in house appointment.

Thoughts on City this season and how far they can go

I, like most people, have been blown away by City this season. What most impresses me is the amount of world class options that Pep has at his disposal. Aguero injured? Just play Jesus. Sterling suspended? Oh, give Bernardo Silva a game. Their attacking options are simply mesmerising. Match that with a defence that works in the way Pep Guardiola intends it to (admittedly with makeshift full back Delph) and you have a side that should theoretically be able to compete on both fronts; Premier League and Champions League. Also, Kevin De Bruyne is by far the best player in the league at the moment. Things look good for City right now.

Predictions for Sunday’s game

It’s a tough one to call. I think you’d be mad to say that Arsenal will win. City look unstoppable on the attacking front and I really don’t see a way for Arsenal’s three-man defence (in its relative infancy) being able to neutralise City’s potency. Saying that, I think if we have a decent amount of possession, Özil and Sanchez may be able to cause some damage and make the game an interesting one. I’d prefer to play Giroud up top this weekend too. I think City’s defence will struggle to deal with his aerial presence and his link up play. Ultimately though, I’ll go for a 2-1 City win. I can’t see Arsenal coming away with more than a point.

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