Going into the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, fans of Arsenal Football Club would have been quietly confident. After all, they had won three out of the four finals they had played at the Wembley Stadium since its reopening in 2007. The one final they lost was however, in the League Cup in 2011 and their rotten luck in the competition continued as they were outplayed by City in the 2018 EFL Cup final, losing 0-3.
Putting in a performance that was truly shambolic, the Gunners defeated themselves by committing schoolboy errors, allowing Pep Guardiola's side to dominate them throughout the match. The Premier League schedule has given Arsene Wenger's men a shot at redemption as they face the Citizens in their next match at the Emirates Stadium. The chance to prove themselves and put in a professional performance in a winning cause should serve as motivation enough for a squad seeking revenge for their meek surrender in the Carabao Cup final.
The reverse fixture in the Premier League earlier in the season saw league leaders City defeat the team from North London 3-1 thanks to goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, with Alexandre Lacazette pulling one back for the away side. Guardiola's men cruised through that match, just like they did through the Carabao Cup final and Arsenal would be focused on providing more of a challenge in their meeting in the league on Thursday.
After retooling their attacking lineup in the January transfer window, the Gunners have had mixed results with their new stars – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Despite their additions, progress has been stop-start as Aubameyang is cup-tied for the Europa League and Mkhitaryan was cup-tied for the Carabao Cup and so wasn't able to play against Manchester City in the final. Since the duo joined the team, they have won only two of their five matches, struggling for rhythm and fluency going forward, whilst retaining their defensive frailties.
With doubts starting to rise over Arsene Wenger's future at the club, again, it is important that the team respond positively to their defeat over the weekend. Struggling to keep pace with the top five, Arsenal need a win to stay in touch with Chelsea. A loss would put them eight points behind the Blues, with ten matches remaining in the league season and that would effectively end their chances of qualifying for the Champions League. With the Europa League their only chance of silverware and possibly only avenue offering a return to Europe's premier club competition, it is imperative that the Gunners approach the match against City with an attacking frame of mind.
They will have to look at unsettling the side from Manchester with their attacking play, bringing Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil into focus. The duo will look to attack the channels and play balls behind the defence, to help striker Aubameyang get on the end of them. The impetus will also be on Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to maintain energy and intensity in midfield as they try and smother the City midfield. Arsenal's most steady defender, Nacho Monreal will be absent due to injury, putting the onus on his replacement, either Sead Kolasinac or Ainsley Maitland-Niles to defend robustly.
City have a few injury troubles of their own, with key midfielder Fernandinho suffering a hamstring strain during the Carabao Cup final. In his absence, Ilkay Gundogan will most likely play the role of the deep-lying midfielder, shielding the defence. Raheem Sterling has been suffering from a muscular complaint and might not be fit enough to make the starting lineup. Gabriel Jesus should be on the bench as he continues to get match fitness while Danilo will deputise at left-back as Fabian Delph serves the second match of his three-game suspension.
Kevin De Bruyne will be crucial with Fernandinho absent as his energy and continuous running helps power their irresistible attack while helping them press their opponents and recover the ball quickly in defence. His ability to find the killer pass makes him the most dangerous player in the City ranks. Supported ably by David Silva and Leroy Sane, the burden of the team's attacking play will be borne by De Bruyne, who leads the league in assists with 14, with teammates Sane and Silva not far behind with 10 and eight respectively.
An important yet not frequently spoken about component of their great run this season has been striker Sergio Aguero, who has scored 30 goals in all competitions, including 21 in the Premier League. He has been immense in the last couple of months, stepping up big time in Jesus' injury-enforced absence. Despite not having a permanent position in the starting lineup due to the Brazilian attacker's ability to press and provide continuous energy, Aguero has been an integral member of City's team, and is crucial to their hopes of winning the Premier League and the Champions League. The club's all-time leading goalscorer is only one goal shy of the 200-mark for the Citizens and would be looking to add to the goal he scored against Arsenal in the League Cup final.
Pep Guardiola's need six more wins (18 points) to assure themselves of the Premier League title. With 11 matches to go in the season, they would be keen to wrap the title up as soon as possible so that they can focus solely on the prospect of achieving Champions League glory.
The encounter itself between the teams on Thursday in the league will see the Gunners attempt to salvage some pride by defeating City, in the process delaying their romp to the league title. A win will not just give Arsenal three points but also help them gain some momentum as they continue their pursuit of Champions League football for next season. For their fans, it will also help soothe some frayed nerves. City come into this encounter with the joy of having won their first trophy under Pep Guardiola and would want to continue their form as they get closer to winning the Premier League crown. Though their chances of winning the quadruple were dashed by Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, they still have the opportunity to win a unique treble, and winning the league would mean the world to them and their fans.
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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 16:38:59 IST