Arsenal: Cech, Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Touré, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Aguero
It was Arsenal’s away trip to the Etihad last year where this latest incarnation of Wenger’s Arsenal announced themselves as potential title challengers for this coming season. Arsenal sat back, they absorbed the pressure and left Manchester with 3 points from a thoroughly un-Arsenal like performance. Whilst this fixture may be at Emirates, the arrival of Pellegrini and co. to north London on Monday night could well be the yet another signifier that this Arsenal team have the psychological strength to go on and win the title in one of the Premier League’s most open of seasons.
Whilst Leicester City sit atop of the tree just before the Christmas, you can’t help but feel that if Arsenal or City were to string a run of results together then an open top bus parade will be on the cards for May and a win against your main title rival certainly will be the best way to start such a run.
For Arsenal injuries again are at risk of dictating the outcome of their season. Whilst November wasn’t the best month for the Gunners, December has been approached with a welcome efficiency against low quality opposition. Wins against Sunderland and Aston Villa sandwich Arsenal’s more crucial victory against Olympiakos, securing Wenger’s impressive Champions League qualification record of reaching the knock stages at least one more year. These performances have a lot to do with the return of Aaron Ramsey. The loss of Coquelin and Cazorla were massive blows for Arsenal but the return of Ramsey brings with it a dynamism and incisiveness that was lacking with a midfield two of Flamini and Arteta. Annoyingly for Arsene, the Manchester City game might be a week too early for him to thrust Alexis Sanchez back into the firing line. The Chilean has been awesome since his move from Barcelona, and taken to the Premier League like a duck to water but after his exertions with Chile in the Copa America during the summer, a break undoubtedly would see a rejuvenated Alexis Sanchez come Boxing Day.
If Arsenal are lacking one of their stars, City could be seeing their brightest return. Sergio Aguero must be considered the best striker in the Premier League. His eye for goal, his ability to hold up play despite his diminutive frame (compared to the likes of Benteke or Giroud) and his raw pace make him lethal anywhere in the final 25 yards of the field. With a supporting cast of Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne; Manchester City have more than enough to trouble Cech and the Arsenal back four. For Pellegrini, the biggest issue facing him is inconsistency. In City’s last 5 games, a draw with Villa, defeat to Stoke and a truly comprehensive defeat to Liverpool at the Etihad have really shown City at their worse. For a squad so expensively assembled, their reliance on Vincent Kompany is staggering. Every team have their key men, but defensively City can go from imperious to shambolic with one mistimed injury to their Belgian captain.
Is it too early to call this a title decider? By far. If this season will go down as the most unpredictable one yet, both City and Arsenal will drop points along the way. An Arsenal victory however would put them 5 points clear of Manchester City, and a 5 point gap certainly would give a little more wiggle room if an injury crisis was to strike down Wenger’s team once more.
Match Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City