Friday, 11 September 2009

Arsenal preview

I feel like we don't know quite as much about this City team as we think that we do.

There is a very easy narrative to attach to the matches so far: that is a newer, more solid City team based around the new signings of Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré, who have allowed us to keep four consecutive clean sheets. And while we may have only scored six goals in those four games, this is testament to a solidity and control that evaded our more cavalier 2008/09 side.

It certainly fits. But it's not watertight. Only at Fratton Park did Barry and Stephen Ireland control the midfield as they can - in the three other games we conceded more territory and possession to our opponents than we ought, and in all four matches only lax finishing prevented the opposition from scoring. Jason Roberts, Andy Keogh, Matt Jarvis, Victor Moses, Freddie Sears and David Nugent will all feel as if they could have breached our defences and ended Given's shutout streak. So are we as solid as we think we are?

Or how about this: that this team is even more attacking, and even more creative, than we were last year. Hughes has switched from 4-3-3 to 4-2-4 this year, dropping Nigel de Jong in favour of another forward. Six goals in four games could easily have been twelve or fourteen or sixteen. Imagine if Robinho had scored one of his chances early on against Wolves. Or Tévez in the first half at Selhurst Park. Narrow wins could have become routs with little having to be different.

The point is, I just don't know what exactly what this team is like. And one of the reasons is that we haven't been seriously tested yet. Big games like this will, in time, define our season. But for now their purpose is more revelatory than anything else. Just how good are City? Is Lescott and Touré the perfect partnership? Is there a reason why a big club never picked up Gareth Barry or Shay Given? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions. But we should have a better handle on them tomorrow evening.

Arsenal are coming off the back of a revelatory moment of their own. Two weeks ago they went to Old Trafford, off the back of four straight performances of real pace and class. But we know they can play. Could they battle? Two fortunate goals from an underwhelming United side, and no Arsenal fightback suggests not. But then who's to say what the lesson to take for this is? Arsenal could well school us tomorrow: if they pass like they can we won't have a chance. But if we play Nigel de Jong, and if he does a decent Darren Fletcher impression, and if Thomas Vermaelen struggles against a striker of Adebayor's physicality, and if Almunia slips up again then Arsenal could well fold as they did at Old Trafford, or at Eastlands last season.

I just don't know. The more thought I put in to calling this result the less sure I am. I'm going with a close, exciting score draw.

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