Preview by Numbers: Manchester City v. Arsenal

Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Sunday, December 18
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester City 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 96 Arsenal wins, 49 Manchester City wins, 44 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W-W-W-L
  • Manchester City's League Form: D-W-W-L-L-W
Well, there is certainly a lot to bitch about after Arsenal's 2-1 loss to Everton on Tuesday night, especially since Mark Clattenburg is suddenly turning into Mike Dean 2: Electric Boogaloo. That being said, on the whole, Arsenal looked lazy and sluggish through most of the match, like they thought just showing up would earn them three points. And to me, that's much more frustrating than any last minute equalizers that get cleared off the line. A draw might have been fair, but you have to admit that Everton wanted it more, and to me, that's unacceptable. The loss, coupled with Chelsea's win on Wednesday, leaves Arsenal six points adrift; they've been pipped by Liverpool for second as well.

So that brings us to a critical road fixture, one in which Arsenal generally does turn up: Manchester City away. Arsenal have a decent record against City over the last three or so seasons, coming from behind twice to draw there last year and winning 2-0 there the year before. Arsenal have not lost to Manchester City since the 6-3 loss at the Etihad in December of 2013.

It's the third match for Arsenal in eight days, but due to the fact that Boxing Day falls on a Monday this year, the Gunners will have a full seven days off before hosting West Brom at the Emirates. It's time for one big push of energy to see off a formidable, though slightly out of form, foe and get back to winning ways.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Mustafi (hamstring,)  Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Ramsey (hamstring)

We're getting to the point where the injuries to Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck are soon to be categorized as a lack of match fitness, rather than knee injuries, which is always a fun time for players to be "Like a New Signing"™.

Barring any change to the status of Aaron Ramsey, whom I haven't heard much about aside from words like "slight hamstring problem," there shouldn't be many changes to the squad who is available for selection on Sunday. Tuesday night's match, in my opinion, should have been the one where Arsenal rotated the side, but instead, Arsène Wenger stuck with the same guys who have been getting the job done lately and they, instead, looked a little lackadaisical.

So, who is in like for a start that did not start against Everton? Alex Iwobi? Mohamed Elneny? He did start at Old Trafford, after all. Olivier Giroud or Lucas Pérez up top? That's a tactical decision, if Wenger decides he needs height in attack. Of course, Wenger brought Giroud in on Tuesday when that was the wrong decision, so who knows how much planning ahead he's really doing here.

I'm going to roll the dice and guess Giroud starts up top, Alexis shifts to the wing, and everyone else is the same. I will certainly be wrong.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Alexis, Walcott, Özil, Giroud.

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Gündoğan (knee,) Kompany (knee)
Doubts: Delph (match fitness)
Suspended: Agüero (third of four, serious foul play and second red card of season, Fernandinho (third of three, violent conduct)

The ongoing suspension of Fernandinho after he, you know, grabbed Cesc Fábregas's throat, saw a run of games in midfield for İlkay Gündoğan. That's been cut short, however, as Gündoğan suffered a serious knee injury, with ligament damage, in Wednesday night's 2-0 City win over Watford. The prognosis is poor, and the German international is expected to miss several months.

With both Fernandinho and Gündoğan out, Pep Guardiola has a lack of natural central midfielders available. (It's a shame City have 14 players out on loan...) Yaya Touré will have to start; the Ivorian has made just six appearances for City this season, and two of them have been since Fernandinho's red card. Touré started against Watford; it was Fernando who had to come off the bench when Gündoğan was hurt.

Vincent Kompany has made only five appearances this season and he remains out with a knee injury until at least January. Fabian Delph (!?) is 50/50, lacking match fitness.

Predicted XI: Bravo, Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernando, Touré, Sterling, de Bruyne, Silva, Iheanacho.

Current Form

Arsenal slipped to their first road defeat of the season on Tuesday and their first league defeat since opening day. So, for the record, in league play this season, Arsenal remain unbeaten in 100% of the matches they have played against sides that aren't from Liverpool.

There's an odd little statistic about Arsenal losing consecutive league fixtures: three of the last four times it has happened, the two teams that beat Arsenal were Manchester United and Swansea City. But, in the other instance, one of the two teams was Manchester City, so that might not bode well for Arsenal here. The Gunners have not lost consecutive road fixtures since April of 2014, when they lost to Chelsea and Everton by a combined 9-0.

Manchester City had lost consecutive matches themselves, to Chelsea and Leicester City, in the past two weeks, but rebounded midweek for a hard fought win over Watford. However, after winning all of their opening six matches of the league season, City have just four wins in the 10 matches since. As Arsenal have stumbled a bit through November and December, City are now sitting in fourth, one point back of Arsenal for third and seven points back of Chelsea for the top spot.

Match Facts

Arsenal took four of a possible six points from City last season, winning 2-1 at the Emirates, then coming from behind twice to draw 2-2 at the Etihad. Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last six against City in competitive fixtures, though that total includes a Community Shield in there.

Arsenal picked up that 2-1 win over City just before Christmas. Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud scored in the 33rd minute and first minute of first half stoppage time, respectively, as the Gunners established themselves as title contenders. Yaya Touré pulled a goal back on 82 minutes to make things nervy, but Arsenal truly looked like potential champions at that time. Days later, they lost 4-0 at Southampton on Boxing Day and Arsenal's title race, of course, stumbled in the winter.

In early May at the Etihad, Manchester City struck early, through Sergio Agüero on eight minutes, but Arsenal were level from a corner just two minutes later, thanks to the head of Olivier Giroud. Kevin de Bruyne gave City the lead a second time on 51 minutes, but in the 68th, Alexis Sánchez equalized yet again for Arsenal. The draw left City in danger of missing out on Champions League football, but they secured fourth with a draw at Swansea on the final day of the season.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Atkinson, along with the aforementioned Mike Dean 2, represented England at the Euros this summer, which should say something about the quality of officials in the world right now. Arsenal have seen Atkinson once so far this season, for the 4-1 win at Sunderland in which he gave the Black Cats a penalty which gave them a lifeline back into the match, before the quality of Arsenal's substitutes changed the game. Historically, Arsenal do not have a strong record with Atkinson, but they have currently won three straight with him in the middle. It should be noted that Arsenal's last loss to City, that 6-3 match three years ago, had Atkinson as the referee.

This is the first time Manchester City will have Atkinson this season. Last year, he took charge of City's early season 3-0 win over the defending champions Chelsea (back when that was still considered an impressive thing to do last year,) their 2-0 loss at Stoke in December, a 2-1 win at Watford just after New Year's, a 3-1 home win over Everton, and a 3-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield. Those results are all over the place, but it certainly shows that they are better at home than on the road. I guess that's true of all teams, generally speaking.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Swansea City; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Leicester City; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Watford; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Hull City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (early): Bournemouth v. Southampton; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Burnley; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday (night): Everton v. Liverpool; Goodison Park, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and will be on a Greyhound bus during the match on Sunday, coming home from a wedding. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to send me incessant updates regarding what's happening.