Manchester City – Arsenal (Premier League)
The clash between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad will open Week 16 of the Premier League with a bang. Head-to-head 4th against 1st in a battle than can shift the standings for all top 4 contenders. Let the games begin.
Manchester City is flying way high in midweeks aftermath. In the Allianz Arena, coming from behind, City beat the all power Bayern Munich thus breaking a 11 wins in-a-row in the Bundesliga and 10 in the Champions League. Wow! And if you were watching the game, by minute 16 you’d thing the Germans were on for another trounce. But them David Silva and James Milner came into play. The entire team was impressive but those two made a world of difference. Silva was back from a calf injury and hit the ground running. The goal that set City in motion was his and it was the tipping point. He was just marvellous, moving the ball around and showing his team-mates how mess Bayern up. Milner was instrumental. He’s not exactly the kind of player that craves the spotlight but he moves the strings, like a puppet master. He made the assist to Silva’s goal, then drew the penalty from Dante and finally scored the winner at the 63rd minute. In between he found the time to motivate and rally the rest of the squad. Quite an achievement if we consider Pellegrini fielded a second-string side. Sure, City’s subs are every manager’s dream-team but they have beaten the best team in the world. The Citizens won 5 of their 6 Champions League games, 3 for 3 in the away ties. If only they could transfer their away form in Europe to the Premier League they would be untouchable.
Manuel Pellegrini recognized the need to spare some of his key-players for the home fixture ahead. And now some hard selection choices await him. Milner, for once. What to do with that energizing remarkable performance? To start him which other midfielder in top form would Pellegrini keep in the sidelines? Certainly not Silva, neither Nasri or even Touré. Decisions, decisions. They have the best attack in the League – 41 goals – and Aguero alone is responsible for 12 of those. Only Suárez has done better. In fact, at the Etihad they have been overwhelming, netting 29 times and conceding just twice in the process.
Micah Richards suffered a hamstring injury in Munich and will be out on Saturday. Touré is back from suspension and Clichy is doubtful.
Probable line-up: Pantilimon – Pablo Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Aleksandar Kolorov – Fernandinho – David Silva, Yaya Touré, Nasri – Negredo, Aguero.
Arsenal went through a tough Wednesday night. Group F’s fixtures were decisive since any of the top three teams still had a chance to enter the knock-out stages. At the final whistle Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli all had 12 points but only the first two qualified. The Italians fought until the very last minute but a 2-0 victory was not enough to send the Gunners home. Dortmund was fist and Arsenal the runner-up, which means they’ll face a harder draw next Monday. Ansène Wenger’s night was not easy. He started an XI without Wilshere and Ramsey with a clear intent of resting them for Saturday. But lets be honest, there’s a huge difference between the amount of rotation Arsenal and City can make. Ozil couldn’t be out, neither could Flamini or Giroud. On top of that they’ll have a day less to recover than their opponents. On the second-half you could see some heavy legs running around and they played the last 14′ with 10 after Arteta was sent off. But still, it’s Arsenal’s 14th consecutive season in the Champions League last 16. The side showed resilience and calm. They were strong defensively and the way they can keep possession is just outstanding. Lets just hope they won’t pay the price next weekend for such a short roster.
Sagna is ruled out but this could be it for Lukas Podolsky return. Wenger could use another option up front.
Probable line-up: Szczesny – Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs – Ramsey, Arteta – Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla – Giroud.
City count for wins all the 7 home fixtures of the Premier League this season. Arsenal have 6 for 7 in their travels, the best away record of the League. For the Citizens wining or losing will be the difference between a 3 or 9 points gap to the top of the table. Gunners will face another test to their title ambitions. Who will prevail?