The previous two encounters Arsenal and Manchester City, there's been a common theme – Arsenal's midfield has been on top form. In the 1-0 victory at Emirates Stadium last season, Mikel Arteta, Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky gave the Citizens a torrid time, while Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Abou Diaby all had excellent games in the 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium a couple of months ago.
The only player to play in midfield in both games for Arsenal was Arteta, and the Spanish metronome struck a superb late winner in the match at the Emirates, which at the time had supposedly ended City's title challenge. As everyone knows, a revival was staged and Roberto Mancini's men snatched the title at the death, making them champions – and few teams go into a game against the champions with such a good record.
In fact, City haven't scored in their last five Premier League visits to Arsenal, and while this is partly down to how rapid their climb from mid-table to table-toppers has been, it's a lot harder to discredit Vincent Kompany's remarks about The Gunners. The City skipper had nothing good to say about Wenger's side on Match of the Day, going as far as to say that he felt that Arsenal were by far the best side they've faced this season.
It's safe to say that if Arsenal want to produce another performance like their previous two, they'll need their midfield to have a good day. That's where the key lay in the last two encounters between the duo – and while in the 1-0, Arsenal's midfield was relentless, in the 1-1 draw they somewhat switched off at the beginning of the second half.
Not only was it in the midfield that both previous games were decided, but that was also a key area in Arsenal's recent 5-2 victory over Tottenham (in fact, both of the 5-2's). Against a 4-4-2 that became 4-4-1 after Emmanuel Adebayor saw red, Arsenal were rampant and exploited the numerical advantage in the centre of the park to great effect. Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla all had good games, and the likely trio for the game against City will need to produce something similar.
It's unlikely that any of City's players will be stupid enough to get a rash red card like Adebayor's (as long as Balotelli doesn't play), but what is likely is that City play a 4-4-2 with Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry in the centre, what with Yaya Toure missing out. Garcia looked a fine purchase from Benfica when he joined, and indeed is surely a good player, but seems to be struggling in the Premier League. As for Barry, while he's City's unsung hero, Mesut Ozil and co. made him look like he was running in custard or some other sludgy compound.
The intensity of Arsenal's game overwhelmed City at the Emirates last time around, and Arsene Wenger will be encouraging similar levels of hunger and energy from his players. He acknowledged the potential importance of a victory, and will be hoping his players show the quality he's so insistent that they have.
It does seem that his players only respond to particular situations – against some teams they look utterly bereft of ideas, while in other games they look like world beaters. The atmosphere may have something to do with it, and although Wenger insists the fans should respond to the players and not vice versa, the supporters will still need to get behind the squad and stir up a cauldron of noise.
But as highlighted earlier, the key to an Arsenal win is the midfield. Cazorla has looked tired of late, and may have been slightly overplayed, but he's had a week to rest and this is the type of game he should thrive in. The same could be said of Arteta and Wilshere – City like to play on the floor just as much as Arsenal, and often like to play an open and expansive game. This may be truer when they're at home, but even at the Emirates, Arsenal's midfield trio may get more space than they normally do.
That would suit Arsenal nicely, as although it would mean they'd have more attacks from City to repel, they'd have less of an obstacle in front of goal when they break. It's like a broken record, but their biggest problem is not having an answer to a stubborn defence.
Even if City do set up in a defensive way, Arsenal can still triumph. Either way, what will be vital is that their midfielders are all singing from the same hymn-sheet when the Citizens make the trip to the capital.