City V Arsenal Preview.

Arsenal travel to Eastlands on Sunday, with far more than second place up for grabs.

 

Looking back at this fixture seven seasons ago creates a contrast between past and present that couldn’t be starker. On a frosty day in mid-winter, Arsene Wenger’s invincibles-elect were strolling to a 5-1 away victory at Maine Road, as the bleary-eyed Kevin Keegan watched on in jealous despair. On that occasion the ‘superstars’ on display were clad in the famous red-and-white, whilst the sky blues could merely boast a lost and weary Nicolas Anelka as their prize asset. Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp played some sumptuous football on that day, yet the vital factor which has evaded our current crop in recent years, and may again do so on Sunday, was an ability to play with style and win.

Based on the recent performance at Chelsea, that trip down memory-lane provides no more than nostalgic merriment, far from being a modern-day possibility. Similar to the encounter at Stamford Bridge, City will presumably set-up with a rigid defensive formation and look to capitalise on our self-indulgent and ineffective passing with quick, counter attacking onslaughts. This archetypal away team strategy not only follows the tried and tested formula of how to beat Arsenal, but appropriately lends itself to Mancini’s Italian philosophies, and thus he is able to deploy three holding midfielders and be labelled as ‘efficient’ rather than ‘boring’. City’s own display against Chelsea fell into both those brackets, yet the three points is what they wanted, and exactly what they earned. Few will be surprised if Sunday’s showdown follows that same script.

Yet in the red-corner Cesc Fabregas will surely have something to say about that, fresh from a renewed pledge by his manager that he will remain a gooner for years, and having come out fighting prior to this match, insisting that it takes more than money to win the title. One hopes this is true, and wouldn’t it be the perfect way to demonstrate this with a Cesc Fabregas inspired Arsenal victory. After all, Cesc is the antithesis of the modern-day footballing stereotype, who lacks loyalty, is governed by greed and dictatorial agents and possesses an indifference to his employers. Throughout a long running summer transfer saga, Fabregas continued to state his love for Arsenal, with the romance of a return to his home town the sole reason for his desire to cross shores, a dream which he reluctantly agreed to postpone out of respect to his manager. Now staying put, Cesc must be at his full-throttling best on Sunday, and not only as an individual, but as an influence to those around him who excel in his presence, and falter without it.

That aside, Sunday’s encounter doesn’t only present two clubs vying for the right to challenge Chelsea. This is a clash of cultures, of morals and of philosophies. Compared with City’s squad cost of £816 Million, Wenger prides himself on developing youth, as the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Jack Wilshere demonstrate as they now play a crucial part in the squad after years of careful nurturing. City’s wage bill of £133 Million with losses of £121 million in the last financial year contrast to Wenger’s iron-fisted grasp on his club’s finances, as he boasts pre-tax profits of £56 Million and a wage bill of merely £120 Million. At the end of a week where financial difficulties have had a knock on affect at both Liverpool and Manchester United, returning to North London with 3 valuable points will be the ideal vindication of Arsene’s spendthrift mentality, and what better way to help erase the memory of Adebayor’s ill-advised gloating in this fixture last season. Whilst his foolish act places him in an unenviable league of his own in the hearts of ireful Arsenal fans, spare a thought for Kolo Toure and Patrick Vieira, two legends of the club who will gain a warm reception from the travelling fans. A warmer reception will be received by our current crop if 3 points follow them back down the M1.

Prediction: City 3-1 Arsenal

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