The good news for Manchester City is that Sergio Aguero is back in training after his heel injury and may be fit enough to play some part on Monday. Without him against better sides, City can look short of penetration. Pablo Zabaleta, though, is a major doubt, while Fernando, Samir Nasri and, most vitally, Vincent Kompany are all doubtful. . In the 885 minutes Kompany has played this season, City have conceded just three goals. In 1275 minutes without him, they’ve conceded 24.
Arsenal have their usual clutch of injuries and will be without Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck. According to Arsene Wenger, Alexis Sanchez has “a slight chance” of playing.
These are the two favourites for the title with City 2.25 and Arsenal 2.75, but neither has wholly convinced this season. After a good start to the season, City have won just three of their last seven games and have been beaten 4-1 by both Tottenham and Liverpool. They were far from convincing in edging out Swansea City 2-1 last weekend, although the second-half performance in the 4-2 win over Borussia Monchengladbach was impressive.
Arsenal are on a comparative upswing, having beaten Olympiakos, Sunderland and Aston Villa in their last three games, but that followed a run of three Premier League matches without success.
It was in a 2-0 win at the Etihad last season that the new Arsenal first began to come into focus, Coquelin and Cazorla both playing superbly at the back of midfield. The meeting at the Emirates last season was a very open 2-2 in September, City taking the lead, then falling behind before Martin Demichelis levelled from a late corner. Twice City hit the post after that, but the sense was that Arsenal had the better of the bulk of the game with the mobility of a front three of Sanchez, Welbeck and Mesut Ozil troubling City.
Arsenal’s injury problems have promoted at least one positive: Aaron Ramsey has moved back into the middle where he has begun to look like the player of two years ago. His three games in the centre have brought two goals and two assists (he’s 4.10 to score at any time). This though, is a different test to those games against Sunderland, Olympiakos and Villa in that there will be a greater onus to defend, protecting the back four from the darts of David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne.
If Arsenal can achieve a measure of stability, though, the suspicion is that City can be vulnerable through the middle, with Fernandinho not as commanding as he once was (which may be less to do with him than with Yaya Toure’s erratic form and the absence of Kompany behind him).
That issue in front of the back four is a major one for City, particularly given the form of Ozil, who has racked up 13 assists this season from a number 10 position and is arguably playing the best football of his Arsenal career. City have to find a way of shoring up that area and denying Ozil space in what Ottmar Hitzfeld used to call the “red zone” just outside the box.
It may be that this is a day for City to play a 4-3-3 with Fabian Delph, Fernandinho and Toure in a line. That’s particularly true if Aguero can’t start, in which case Sterling could be deployed at centre-forward with De Bruyne right and Silva left. That said, Sterling was far more effective against Gladbach after Wilfried Bony came on, allowing him to drop into a deeper role.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SAGNA
He has improved over the past few weeks and his assist in the Olymiakos game was magnificent, but Joel Campbell still does not look an Arsenal player. His touch is slightly heavier than his team-mates and his defensive work remains at times questionable. Much of what little attacking work Villa did last Sunday came down his flank as he allowed Leandro Bacuna to get forward, and that means Bacary Sagna has a vital role in getting forward to support the City attack – assuming Sanchez doesn’t start.
Given recent form, it’s difficult to make a case for a City side without Kompany and possibly with Aguero – or, at the very least, with a not fully fit Aguero. It may be a week for a simple home win bet: Arsenal look decent value at 2.38, even if they haven’t won any of their last three home games against City. If they follow the blueprint of the home win over United and press City hard and early, it may be worth inflating that by backing them to be ahead at half-time and full-time at 4.00.