Gunning for attention, could Arsenal’s game at the Etihad this weekend be decisive?
By Daniel Barr
This weekend will prove to be Arsenal’s first real test of the season, an away trip to Champions Manchester City and in terms of markers for the campaign, it doesn't get any bigger.
Both teams go into this game with the same amount of points, Arsenal a place above mainly thanks to an overhaul of goals against lowly Southampton. But with it being so early in the season, positions can be considered irrelevant. Yet this Arsenal team seem to have slipped under the radar of potential title winners, so could this game against the champions get their title credentials heard?
The departure of Robin Van Persie in the summer to rivals Manchester United has been heavily documented and obviously impacted Arsene Wenger’s title ambitions. Losing last years top scorer will do that to you. Since that move critics and fans alike have written off the Gunners, with most claiming the title will be decided between the two Manchester clubs with Chelsea being the outside bet.
New additions to the squad however have done the club no harm. In fact, they’ve possibly strengthened the team. German striker Lukas Podolski is a proven player with plenty of experience both at club and international level. Santi Cazorla has shown his class already in the Premier League with exquisite skill and eye for a pass, and although Olivier Giroud has yet to get off the mark, he can offer Arsenal different attacking options. .
Gervinho finally seems to be fulfilling his potential and provides another option through the middle, Mikel Arteta will always provide stability and a decisive pass or ten in a game, while chipping in with a goal here and there. Then there is and a fresh Abou Diaby, who has power, panache and is idealy suited to replace the big loss of Alex Song, provided he can sta healthy.
The major question mark however remains the defence. With Manchester City holding one of the most feared attacking line-up in world football, this game could show how much Wenger’s team have progressed since last season.
No new additions to the Arsenal defence may prove to be costly. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen towards the end of last season seemed to be forming a solid partnership. Per Mertesacker does offer a height advantage filling in for Koscielny, but in a league where pace and movement are the forthright attack, he could prove to be a liability.
Heading into the Etihad Stadium, City's Carlos Tevez will very rarely win the aerial ball, but that is not the way of the home side. Although Dzeko will provide a stronger attack with the ball in the air, this often isn’t the preferred route of Roberto Mancini’s team. So Wenger must ask whether this is the time to reintroduce Koscielny back into the starting XI?
Arsenal’s method of play has always been admired for their fluidity and consistency. But this defence has the ability to make mistakes, and the Etihad is not the best to have them.
Similar to Southampton in their first game of the season, the Gunners will need to attack their opposition. There are suspicions that the Manchester side are frail having let slip a lead twice in the Champions League during the week against Real Madrid. .
Arsenal struggled to score in their opening two games but a good win against Liverpool and a mauling of new boys Saints possibly came at just the right time for the Gunners to go into this game full of confidence.
This is why this game could prove to be so crucial, despite coming so early on. Win, and Wenger’s team could start to be taken seriously as title contenders. The team he has built to this point looks dangerous, admittedly slightly clumsy at times, but this could be one of the best chances they have for a trophy in a long time.
With jack Wilshere close to a first team return, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rightfully earning a lot of praises for his performances, and of course the lightening pace of Theo Walcott also to call upon, goals shouldn’t be a problem for the Gunners.
Time to start firing!