City return to Premier League action fresh from a superb victory over Napoli in the Champions League.
The confidence within the City squad, already high, will have been raised another notch as they overcame what was forecast by many people – Guardiola included – as the toughest assignment his players had faced this season. Demonstrating resilience, self-belief in their abilities and utter trust in each other Pep`s charges sent a message out that will have registered in Europe despite the domestic media ‘oxygen` being sucked up by Spurs notable defeat of Real Madrid that same evening. What a night! A magnificent team performance that was capped off by Sergio Aguero racing clear to calmly slot home the goal that secured his place in the club`s history as the all time top goal scorer. That is was such a significant goal, at such a crucial time in the game was fitting indeed. We are truly blessed to witness his talent in the sky blue shirt of our club.
Next up on the domestic front are fifth placed Arsenal. Having lost only once in all competitions since the end of August when they conceded 4 without reply at Anfield they will feel that they will want to be the ones to halt City`s outstanding run of results especially as the Sky Blues have only defeated the Gooners once in their last six meetings back in December 2016.
The Arsenal squad will arrive fresh and rested after Wenger gave significant numbers of his first team squad a night off for the midweek Europa League match against Red Star Belgrade. Having secured the draw that ensured they will progress to the knockout rounds of the competition it could be regarded as a job well done – why risk your first picks when you don`t have to. We will all have a keen eye on what Pep Guardiola chooses to do during the final two matches of our Champions League campaign so I am not going to throw any stones from within this glasshouse just yet. I too would suspect that he will take eat opportunity to give some of the fringe players game time and younger talents such as Foden European experience.
Doubtless much attention will be focused on Alexis Sanchez who was the subject of a Transfer Deadline Day bid which ultimately (& suspiciously) failed because Arsenal hadn`t lined up a replacement. With City playing a brand of football which has left many neutral observers salivating and had several hacks being forced to eat their words about whether Guardiola ‘got` the Premier League, many will be wondering what it is that he could bring to the Sky Blue party. Some extra depth in attacking options is about all I can offer – the season is not yet a third over and there will be injuries, suspensions and taxi rides in Amsterdam to get through yet. And yet, and yet??..does City`s pursuit of this strong willed individual have a ‘whiff` of the situation City found themselves in back in March 1972?
There are those among us who recall the impact that parachuting Rodney Marsh had on a City side that was performing well and challenging for the Championship in the 1971/72 season. Whilst it is unfair to rest the failure to win the league that year solely on that talented man`s shoulders there is a strong belief that the introduction of his maverick, individualistic style disrupted the style and flow that the existing forward line of Bell, Lee and Summerbee were producing. Malcolm Allison, emerging from the shadow of Joe Mercer and wanting to impose his own style on the club, was keen to shoehorn Marsh into his side and many feel (Summerbee among them) that it didn`t help. Although the club finished only a single point behind the eventual winners Derby County there is the nagging “if only” doubt that lingers around Allison`s decision to recruit Marsh from QPR.
However, Guardiola has form for turning players with an individual streak around as we have seen with Sergio Aguero. A player that was always keen to shoot as he backed himself rather than some of his team mates and found that his goals got City out of some sticky patches, has learnt to adapt his style, work harder for the team and take pleasure from the contribution to the whole side scoring goals. Who is to say that he could not do the same again?
Stand by for the issue to re-emerge in the January Transfer Window.
In any event, Pep will ensure that his players are properly focused for this match as he continues to mould a team and group of players who are delivering results and performances which are a joy to behold. He has developed a strong squad mentality and a great team ethic which is demonstrated by the exuberance and joy expressed by every player whenever they find the back of the net and acknowledge whoever provided the assist. I expect Walker to be returned to the starting line up along with David Silva. I suspect Aguero, now freed from the shackles of having the goal scoring record ‘albatross` around his neck, may be given the nod ahead of Jesus ably supported by the fleet footed Sané and the rejuvenated Sterling. Hat trick for Aguero on Sunday? Yes please.
Maureen must be grinding his teeth at the sort of plaudits his old rival has been receiving.
Outstanding. Love it.
After this match City will face consecutive away league games against our current bête noire Leicester, aka ‘The Assassins`, and then the current darlings of the Premier League, Huddersfield Town. There is no rest at the top but I am sure that every single member of the team is relishing the next challenge put in front of them.
The next one involves putting to the sword Arsene Wenger`s team. Bring it on.
Come on City!!!
Opponent to watch
Alexis Sanchez – City`s ‘Top Target` during the last window allegedly. He will need careful marshalling.
Referee – Michael Oliver (oh joy)
Assistants – Simon Bennett; Stuart Burt
Fourth Official – Andre Marriner
Stats** comparison (Premier League):-
Goals per game – 3.5
Avg Possesion – 66.2%
Pass Accuracy – 89.4%
Shots per game – 18.5
Discipline – 19Y, 2R
Goals per game – 1.9
Avg Possesion – 59.9%
Pass Accuracy – 84.2%
Shots per game – 17.8
Discipline – 9Y, 0R
**Stats courtesy of Whoscored.com
City will be missing Mendy and Vincent Kompany.
Arsenal will be without ex-rag Welbeck, Mustafi and Cazorla. Kolasinic & Chambers should be available.
Potential starting XI, subs & formation
Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph
De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva D
Sterling, Aguero, Sané
Bravo, Mangala, Danilo, Toure, Gundogan, Silva B, G Jesus
ManchesterCity v Arsenal – Match Preview