Manchester City versus Arsenal - it’s a Premier League fixture that never disappoints and always provides a showcase of intelligent attacking football.
The defending champions understandably come in as firm favourites having put out the third best home record in the division so far this year. And Arsenal have lost four of their last six visits to the Etihad and their only win there since February 2008 – a 3-0 victory in 2010 – was mostly attributed to an early sending-off for Dedryck Boyata.
But the two sides are more tactically similar now than ever before and Sunday’s clash could prove to be one of their most intriguing meetings yet – so we’ll take you through four key areas where this game will be won and lost.
David Silva vs. Francis Coquelin
Without a doubt this game will be won and lost in the midfield. Both sides employ similar short passing systems with five men in the middle of the park supporting a lone striker.
David Silva has been an incredibly important part of City’s gameplan this season as they become more and more of a “tiki-taka” based outfit. His ability to find pockets of space in front of back fours has been crucial in drawing defenders out and creating space behind them – and it’ll be Francis Coquelin’s daunting job to stop that!
The Arsenal defensive midfielder has had something of a second coming at the Emirates in recent weeks. Since returning from a loan spell at Charlton he has played a key part in screening the Gunners’ back four with Flamini and Ramsey unavailable. He’s shown good progress in the last five games but will face his biggest test yet on Sunday!
Gael Clichy vs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oxlade-Chamberlain is finally getting a chance to get some consistent game-time for Arsenal this year and has been a useful outlet down the right-flank in recent weeks. His link-up play with Alexis Sanchez has been very important for the Gunners with the Chilean opting to spread things wide before finding a more advanced position on several occasions.
This will be a key area of contention for the two sides as Gael Clichy has made more interceptions than any other left-back this season averaging 3.4 per game. This stat could prove vital to City as they look to cut off the creativity of Alexis Sanchez as well as try to dominate possession against a side that knows how to move the ball around.
Fernandinho vs. Alexis Sanchez
Unfortunately for Manchester City, someone is going to have to mark the “Duracell battery” – and with Yaya Toure away at the African Cup of Nations, that honour will probably fall to Fernandinho. We don’t really need to go into too much detail on just how useful Sanchez is for the Gunners – you all know – and his lightning fast movement and never-ending energy will give Fernandinho a game to remember.
Yaya Toure may have been a better man to put the shackles on the Chilean and the dilemma is the perfect example of why plenty of Premier League managers struggled to get on-board with the scheduling for AFCON.
Sergio Aguero vs. Per Mertesacker
The Argentinean made his City return from the bench against Everton and could be set to start on Sunday. He’ll be keen to hit the ground running on his return from injury and equally motivated to perform well by the signing of Wilfried Bony – and its games like these, before the Ivorian returns from AFCON, that provide the perfect opportunity for that.
His preference for picking the ball up between the two centre-backs will cause all sorts of problems for Per Mertesacker who has struggled to cope with fast strikers running at him in the past.
He’ll have to be careful too; Manchester City have had more penalties awarded in their favour at home (3) than anyone else this season – and that’s no accident when you consider how tricky Sergio Aguero can be in the box.