Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Arsenal preview

With growing frustration from the stands - if not the boardroom - Mark Hughes would maybe have wished for an easier week ahead as opposed to a crucial cup quarter-final and then a visit from the league leaders.

First up is Arsenal then, and a game that holds plenty of intrigue. There was a heap of media build up ahead of the league game earlier in the season with the focus firmly on Emmanuel Adebayor - and he didn't disappoint in that respect. Those issues have been done to death both here on the blog and elsewhere and need not repeating.

It is also a quarter-final of course, and not only have we fared terribly at this stage in terms of progressing through but we have turned in a some abysmal performances in the process. A positive only that the current side have not been scarred of seasons past.

The discontent eminating at present I think stems more from the three home games where we have tossed away winning positions than the overall run of seven draws themselves, but it is no less significant that in six of the seven draws we have held the lead at some stage.

Both sides go into the game not at their peak. Seven draws in succession has seen an erosion of some of the confidence and style we displayed in August and September, whilst Arsenal have stuttered at times as well - turning in some excellent performances but do arrive on the back of a demoralising loss at the weekend. They will however - unless Wenger has a huge about turn - field a shadow side, one that has generally impressed, but lacked that quality or experience when facing stronger sides.

There is no doubt that Hughes will continue his policy of fielding the strongest side available, and he will be as aware as anyone of the need to progress through to the semi-final stage. After stuttering of late against what you could disrespectfully term as 'lesser' sides, games against Arsenal (and Chelsea to come) could be the type of opponents to drag us out of our recent funk. Not quite a raising of the game as such, more a focus of the minds of what is at stake and the competition we face.

Confidence in progressing is perhaps not as high as it should be though. As talented a side as Arsenal will still put out, man for man we will be the better side and will be favourites given our home advantage.

Our recent victories over Arsenal have come through attacking performances, and their defence will be there to be got at. The hope therefore is that the approach is not an overly cautious one, but one that plays to our strengths - utilising Robinho, Adebayor, Ireland and Wright-Phillips.

Plenty has been discussed with regards to changing the mentality of the club, and we have seen strides in several areas. It is - as I've often remarked - not an overnight progress, but a longer term issue.

Progression past the quarter-final stages though will be part of achieving that. I'll take us to go through in a close, tense affair. Probably extra-time. Possibly penalties?

Game notes:

  • In the League Cup, Arsenal hold a 100% record over City, with five wins out of five.
  • Three of Arsenal's four defeats this season have come away from the Emirates.
  • The Gunners have not won a League Cup tie on the road for two years, since a 3-2 extra-time victory over Blackburn in the quarter-finals in December 2007.

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