Aaron Ramsey could miss out for Arsenal after straining an ankle in Wales’s 2-1 over Andorra on Tuesday, while Mesut Ozil is also a major doubt having missed Germany’s 2-1 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Scotland with a hamstring injury. Theo Walcott is not likely to return for another two-to-three weeks, but Mikel Arteta is available again at the back of midfield. For Manchester City, Stevan Jovetic has a hamstring issue, while both Fernando and Pablo Zabaleta are doubts.
Arsenal were comfortable 3-0 winners in the Community Shield and, while City played like they didn’t really care, the ease with which Arsenal’s central midfield dominated Fernando and Yaya Toure was telling. Last season, City won a chaotic game at the Etihad 6-3, while at the Emirates in March, two 4-2-3-1s largely cancelled each other out, as Arsenal came from 1-0 down to draw. Arsenal’s shape shifts at times from 4-2-3-1 to 4-1-4-1 (although the difference is minimal) but their essential style never alters. City found in the Community Shield – although it can hardly have come as a shock – that to play 4-4-2 against Arsenal is to risk being overrun. They started the 6-3 with a 4-4-2, before switching to 4-2-3-1 after half-time, the extra man in midfield, even attacking midfield, allowing them to cope better with Arsenal’s slick passing.
Signing Fernando gives Manuel Pellegrini the opportunity to field a 4-3-3, something he did only once in a league game last season, in the defeat away at Chelsea. Already this season, away at Newcastle, he has gone to 4-3-3, using each of Fernando, Fernandinho and Toure as City held on over the final 17 minutes for a win. Fernando’s injury may make the decision for him but if the Brazilian is fit, Pellegrini will have to decide whether to use the extra holding player to try to frustrate Arsenal, or whether to stick with the 4-2-3-1 he used last season. Whether it’s 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, there is then a further decision to make as to whether to play Sergio Aguero at the point of the attack, or to use Edin Dzeko because of his superior ability to hold the ball up.
As Walcott pointed out this week, if and when Arsenal have all three of himself, Alexis Sanchez and the new signing Danny Welbeck fit, they will have a terrifyingly rapid forward line, which should in turn get the best out of the through-balls of Ozil. And if opposing teams sit deep to try to frustrate that line of attack, all it will do is leave more space for the creative midfielders (although from Arsenal’s point of view there remains the danger that against a packed defence they could end up passing the ball square a lot of the time if they don’t have an aerial presence to make the most of crosses or longer balls into the box; which is why a fit Olivier Giroud is such an advantage for them). With no Walcott and Ozil a doubt, that may be academic, but City will at the very least have to be wary of Arsenal’s speed on the counter-attack.
BACK OF ARSENAL’S MIDFIELD
Will Arsene Wenger go in with two holding players, pairing Arteta with Mathieu Flamini, or will he field just one and stick with the 4-1-4-1 he has preferred this season, with Santi Cazorla (or Ramsey if fit) and Jack Wilshere flanking a single holder? If City field a 4-2-3-1, with David Silva as a creator behind a centre-forward, Wenger would probably prefer an extra holder to try to contain him, but if City themselves opt for more of a containing game then Wenger would probably rather have more passers to take the game higher up the pitch and offer more angles of attack.
Neither Arsenal nor City have been at their best as yet this season, and both have issues with injury. Given how flat City lost in their last game, the defeat at home to Stoke City, it’s a little surprising to find that they are favourites at 2.35 against an Arsenal team that is unbeaten in its last 13 games and that didn’t actually lose at home to any side apart from Aston Villa last season. At 2.85 Arsenal look attractive, but the safer way to go may be Arsenal draw no bet, at 2.05.
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