Manchester City need positive start to crucial week

Richard Burns

Manchester City will be looking to make a good start to one of the most crucial weeks in their season when they travel to Arsenal on Sunday. The trip to The Emirates is the first match after the recent break for the international fixtures, before which, Arsenal were very much a club in the midst of turmoil.

A poor run of form that has seen them dumped out of the Champions League in humiliating fashion by Bayern Munich, as well as sliding to sixth place in the Premier League, has cranked up the pressure on manager Arsène Wenger to a whole new level. Fan protests outside the ground have progressed into planes being flown over stadiums at away games – the Gunners support fanbase is an unhappy one.

City head to The Emirates hoping that the break of the last fortnight won’t have diminished any of that feeling and that the home fans create an uneasy atmosphere for their team who should, by rights, be seriously lacking in confidence.

City themselves should be feeling good about their chances, regardless of their opponents current state. With a couple of obvious exceptions – namely away games against Everton and AS Monaco – the Blues form has been impressive since the turn of the year. They boast the second best away form in the division which means, despite Arsenal winning six of their last seven home fixtures, the visitors have no reason to feel intimidated.

Pep Guardiola’s Blues have kept an impressive eight clean sheets in 16 games played in 2017. For all the talk of their defensive problems, they’ve found a way to make the most of what they have for now.

The selection of the defence will surely be dominating Guardiola’s thoughts in the build up to this fixture. John Stones pretty much picks himself at the moment, so impressive has his recent form been. He has long been the only defender in City’s employ that is truly of the calibre the current boss requires but even his biggest fan can’t deny there have been a few too many mistakes. The signs recently are that he’s leaving them behind and it’s hard to see how he could be left out of this match.

Every other defensive position must surely be up for grabs. Aleksander Kolarov might be the best partner for Stones, assuming Guardiola plays a back four. Kolarov has a huge weakness in his reading of the game, often caught out by balls played over the top of him. That should be less of a problem against Arsenal’s style and he should be a better option that Nicolas Otamendi, whose penchant for rash tackling would likely not serve his side well at The Emirates.

The attack should be easy to predict. There would be no obvious reason to change from the combination of Sergio Agüero, Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne for this match, so impressive has City’s offensive play been of late. They will need to finish their chances a lot better than they did in their last three matches, but with such quality, it’s hard to imagine those problems won’t correct themselves.

Victory for City would move them five points clear of Arsenal, though the Gunners would retain a game in hand. It would be a significant three points as City look to secure a top four position and, with it, qualification for next season’s Champions League. With a visit to Chelsea coming up in midweek, the last thing they need is dropped points shifting any more pressure onto that match.

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