Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Predicting the Starting Lineups, Course of Play

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IISeptember 21, 2012

Uncertain times for the boss.
Uncertain times for the boss.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger brings his hard-charging Gunners to the Etihad on Sunday for a fixture that, with apologies to Liverpool vs. Manchester United, tops the weekend slate in the Premier League.

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has a considerable problem on his hands: Through four unbeaten league contests and Tuesday's loss at Real Madrid to open the side's Champions League campaign, the Sky Blues have yet to play anything resembling a full 90 minutes of the sort of football that made them league champions last season.

Had City eked out a win or even a draw at the Bernabeu, the scrutiny on this test from Arsenal might have been lessened.  As it stands, though, the entire league figures to be watching what City does this weekend because, if they lose, it would signify not only the end of a 31-match unbeaten streak at home, but it would indicate that, perhaps, the reigning champions do not have the stuff to separate themselves from the contenders.

For Arsenal, a win on City's ground might well silence for good the laments of the fans who feared the worst when Robin van Persie went to Manchester United during the recent transfer period.  Certainly Arsenal haven't lacked scoring in their past three matches, including a 6-1 drubbing of Southampton and a 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield. 

Wenger's charges started the season slowly, with two 0-0 draws—but since then, it's three wins on the march and the third spot in the table (over City, on goal difference).

Given all that, City's eleven should be the best, or as close to the best, as Mancini can do.  A loss here would be very troubling to the home fans.  So: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Javi Garcia, Barry, Yaya Toure; Silva, Balotelli, Tevez.  This assumes that Sergio Aguero is still out; if he plays, he starts in front of Balotelli, but the controversial Italian will play after being passed over against Real Madrid.

For Arsenal, a more conservative approach is likely, as a draw would serve their interests just fine: Szczesny; Gibbs, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen; Arteta, Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Cazorla, Gervinho, Podolski.  This assumes that Szczesny is fit.

Myriad possibilities loom for the game's outcome.  "That's true every game," you say.  Yeah, but still.  Before City started as they did, a 1-0 or 2-1 home win was the easy call.  Unfortunately for City, Arsenal is lethal in the counter-attack, which City has shown themselves to be quite susceptible to in the early going.  And City will dearly miss Samir Nasri, whose hamstring tweak on Tuesday will force him to sit against his former club.

Manchester City 2-2 Arsenal.