By Ryan Fleming
It’s an understatement to say that this weekend’s prime meeting between Arsenal and Manchester City means a lot. This is the type of game that can define a season, turn things around, or solidify a team’s standing. Both teams, starting the season on two different paths, now cross at a time when both teams are surging, much like how they both kicked off the season, on different roads.
City are coming off a 2-1 defeat of what many on Twitter were calling the “Oil Firm Derby,” between the EPL’s table leaders and Chelsea. After taking a one-goal lead after just two minutes by Manchester playboy, Mario Balotelli, City fell apart. Emphasizing their destruction was Gael Clichy’s sending off a little more than 10 minutes after the half, knocking him out of the momentous meeting with his former team this Sunday.
But what’s more embarrassing to the club that’s owned by a member of the world’s wealthiest country, Abu Dhabi, was its knockout of the Champions League, while their weekend opponent was the first English team to advance to the knockout stages. For a team that has the 10th highest payroll of any professional team in any major sport in the world, their remission of quality is astounding, forcing them to participate in a much less glamorous Europa League.
While Arsenal is suddenly the team everyone is talking about and field arguably the world’s most dangerous striker, Robin van Persie. The Gunners are nine points off City and two points off a guaranteed Champions League place. This is remarkable to even speak of given the way Arsene Wenger’s side started the season. But things have since turned around for Arsenal.
What most Arsenal supporters would nod to as the turning point of their season was the 5-3 emphatic win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. RVP, no less, scored three and Thomas Vermaelen, who missed almost all of last season with a calf injury made a substitute appearance — he has started all league games since. Since the return of the Belgian international, Arsenal’s usually shakable defense, looks, rather sturdy. Despite his small frame, Vermaelen acts more like the size of his German counterpart, the 6’6” Per Mertesacker.
To really emphasize what impact the two have over Wenger’s club, 11 out of the club’s last 16 goals have come from the two. Obviously, RVP is the main goal-scoring threat, but Vermaelen, despite his goal-scoring ability from a defensive position, has the ability to change the complexity of a team’s back line, which could prove the difference this Sunday.
This Sunday, the game will come down to whose defense plays better. Vincent Kompany, City’s own Belgian defender and captain, is not only one of the best centre backs in the league, but boasts a vocal and physical presence to back it up. With Andre Santos out of the next three months with an ankle injury, look for Wenger to play Johan Djourou or Laurent Koscielny in his spot. Djourou will probably be given the nod, much like he did in Arsenal’s, 1-1, draw on Nov 26, which he played rather well.
City and Arsenal again find themselves on different routes, but a role reversal. Arsenal is trending up, while City are coming down to reality. With all eyes on the Belgians on either team, and a Dutch striker up top, this contest will do everything but disappoint.