Manchester City Vs Arsenal, Sun 24 Oct 2010

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Man City: Hart, Richards, Boyata, Kompany, Boateng, Silva, Toure Yaya, De Jong, Barry, Milner, Tevez.

Subs: Given, Bridge, Adebayor, Adam Johnson, Lescott, Vieira, Balotelli.

Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas, Song, Denilson, Arshavin, Chamakh.

Subs: Szczesny, Koscielny, Rosicky, Walcott, Eboue, Gibbs, Bendtner.

Manchester City have been boosted by the return of Mario Balotelli for Sunday's Premier League encounter with Arsenal.

The Italy international has been restricted to just 33 minutes action after suffering a knee injury during his debut against Timisoara in August.

However, after emerging unscathed from training, the £23million forward is likely to be on the bench for the Blues, who are looking to consolidate second spot.

Pablo Zabaleta is calling on City to make a statement about their own ambitions by dismantling Arsenal.

City tackle the Gunners knowing victory would take them six points clear of Arsene Wenger's men and establish themselves as the most likely side to dethrone Chelsea this term.

It represents rapid progress given the Blues did not even have a European campaign last season, and, at the start of this one, had their title credentials being written off by manager Roberto Mancini.

Now Zabaleta is hoping to use a defeat of the Gunners to stamp City's mark on English football.

"This is a very important game for us," said the City utility man.

"If we could beat Arsenal it would send out a big message to the rest of the league.

"Over the past couple of seasons, we have performed very well against the big teams.

"Arsenal are one of them. They have some fantastic players and are playing really well. We must do the same."

Yet in "making a statement", Zabaleta acknowledges it would blow apart one of City's major weapons at a far earlier stage than even they anticipated.

When assessments were being made about this season's championship, Chelsea were quite rightly installed as favourites.

Manchester United were generally regarded as the next best, with Arsenal not too far behind.

City were mentioned. But respected judges felt a Champions League berth would be the summit of their achievements.

In that sense, Mancini was playing to an audience when he declared his team were not good enough to win the title.

Zabaleta acknowledges it was part of a wider strategy.

"It is better if people talk about other teams," he said.

"It makes it easier for us.

"But deep down we are very confident in our quality.

"We have some fantastic players and results are going well.

"We still need to work hard but everyone believes we can win trophies."

Full-back Bacary Sagna will return to the Arsenal squad following a thigh problem.

Fit-again strikers Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott are again included in the squad, but centre-half Laurent Koscielny (back), fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (elbow) remain out, while midfielder Jack Wilshere starts a three-match ban.

Robin van Persie (ankle) and Aaron Ramsey (leg) are on course for a return next month.

Wenger feels "leader" Sebastien Squillaci can provide an experienced head at the heart of the Arsenal defence as they look to shut out City.

With Vermaelen still battling to recover from an Achilles problem which has sidelined the Belgian since the international break in September and summer recruit Koscielny out because of a back injury, the 30-year-old will again be the senior partner alongside Swiss centre-half Johan Djourou.

French international Squillaci has settled quickly into the hustle and bustle of top-flight English football, having jumped at the chance of a #6million move from Sevilla just before the transfer window closed.

He scored his first goal for the Gunners in their 3-1 Champions League win at Partizan Belgrade last month and Wenger is in no doubt about the influence the veteran has provided.

"Squillaci is a leader," the Arsenal manager said. "He is a quiet one, but he speaks a lot when you observe the game - he speaks to the midfielders, to Johan a lot, to the full-backs.

"He has a quiet, reassuring presence at the back."

Squillaci played in the 2004 Champions League final for Monaco against Jose Mourinho's Porto and was also part of Les Bleus' World Cup disaster.

The veteran defender feels Wenger can help add another dimension to his game.

"He is hugely respected in the world of football, and it is great to be able to work with a manager like him," Squillaci said.

"Even if I am 30, I still want to improve and with him I will do that. It is very important for me.

"It is a different style of play to the Spanish league. I am working hard at training to cope with the physical aspect."

Squillaci added: "We are playing an offensive game, so we need to stay strong at the back.

"We have played good games and others not so good, so we are working hard in training to become stronger at the back."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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