Arsenal away, then. It’s a daunting fixture of course, but it’s made just a little less scary by Sunday’s thrilling victory over Liverpool at the Circle.
It also relieves the pressure. We’d previously been on a worrying little run of games without besting the opposition, but suddenly the smiles are back, confidence is flowing and a very healthy seven points cushion us from the bottom three places, whose avoidance must still be our utmost priority. Instead of needing to arrest the decline as soon as possible, we can treat this as a shot to nothing – if we lose, then that’s only what’s expected at the League leaders; but if we DO get anything, it’s a stellar result.
To retrieve anything from the Emirates, we’ll have to do it without Curtis Davies. Our player of the season collected his fifth caution of the campaign at the weekend, and so must sit it out tonight. His replacement is likely to be James Chester, who’s finally recovered from injury. Alex Bruce, who spent an enjoyable Sabbath trotting around with a pint-sized Uruguayuan racist in his pocket, should start. Elsewhere, it’s a case of who’s at 100% following the weekend. Yannick Sagbo and David Meyler ran their legs to water, and with Arsenal having had an extra day’s rest Steve Bruce may be tempted to change a winning side.
Arsenal are four points clear at the top after an impressive 3-0 win at Cardiff on Saturday, and have won five of their last six games in the Premier League. After a quiet summer and signs of discontent among the Gooners, Arsenal have surprisingly emerged as genuine title contenders. There’s obviously a long way to go, but they’re the side to catch and with inconsistency afflicting all of the “big clubs”, many stranger things have happened than Arsene Wenger ending a their wait for a trophy by taking the title. They’ll make at least one change tonight, with Bacary Sagna having been struck down with a hamstring injury; Carl Jenkinson will deputise.
The only other consideration is whether Wenger will roll the dice by resting players. They host Everton at the weekend before travelling to Napoli next week – they’re as good as through, but it’s not assured, and there must be a temptation to give a few players a night off against one of the “lesser sides”. That said, Arsene Wenger will be well aware of what happened in 2008. Then, as now, Arsenal were title contenders, but a 2-1 home defeat to City was something they never properly recovered from.
THAT game has down in history, but generally speaking City’s record against Arsenal is not great. There’ve only been 16 meetings since the first in 1907, mainly due to Arsenal’s longevity in the top flight and City’s century-long aversion to it, and the record is 3-3-10. 2008 was the first success over the Gunners since the First World War. That’s just one of the reasons that Arsenal are huge favourites for tonight, with no bookmaker daring to offer more than 1/4 on a home win. An improbable victory for City is 14/1, while a draw is as long as 6/1 – about the same price as victory over Liverpool, for comparison. Still, you never know…