Just over two years ago, I sat quietly amongst the home supporters as Manchester City parked the proverbial bus at The Emirates Stadium to claim a point in a rather dour 0-0 draw against Arsenal. For 90 minutes, Roberto Mancini’s side showed little or no ambition to attack and registered a grand total of zero shots on target, while the hosts peppered Joe Hart’s goal without any reward.
Arsenal had just over 62% possession and 16 attempts on goal that night, but couldn’t find the back of the net and, being a City supporter, the growing frustrations of those around me bordered on amusing by the end. The fact that I was pleased with a point shows how unhappy a hunting ground Arsenal has been in my lifetime and before.
Indeed, the Gunners have had the better of things in their own back yard for nearly 40 years, with City’s last league win coming way back on 4 October 1975. That game finished 3-2 as Asa Harford, Joe Royle and Rodney Marsh found the net for City.
Speaking of goals, City hasn’t breached a defence at The Emirates since a 3-1 defeat back in April 2007. American DeMarcus Beasley was the man to do it, slotting the ball past Jens Lehmann after a pass from Michael Johnson (remember him?).
Things have changed a lot since those days under Stuart Pearce as City firstly closed the gap on Arsene Wenger’s team before overtaking them en route to winning the title last year. Yet The Emirates hoodoo remains, apart from a 1-0 win for City in the League Cup in Novemeber 2011 but that doesn’t really count does it?
Injuries and unavailability mean Roberto Mancini will have to shuffle his pack for this one. The loss of Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations will hit City hardest. While the recently crowned African Footballer of the Year hasn’t exactly been in sparkling form this season in terms of goals and assists, his mere presence in the middle of the park gives the opposition a headache. Against the notoriously resolute Stoke in his last outing, Toure racked up 101 passes of which he completed 91%.
There is no straight replacement for such a player so others will need to step up in his absence, and the energy of James Milner could be crucial. The England international has been unlucky with injuries so far this season but has been in favour when fit. He put in a fine performance against Watford in the FA Cup to deservedly pick up the Man of the Match award and, along with Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia, will be a candidate for a central midfield spot against the Gunners
Also sidelined for Sunday will be Sergio Aguero who tore a hamstring against Stoke just as he looked to be stringing a few consistent performances together. While Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko will be the main contenders to lead the line, the importance of Mario Balotelli increases and the Italian netted two goals in a run out for the under 21's earlier this week as they beat Blackburn Rovers 4-0. The opinion divider also performed well in his 25 minute cameo against Watford as both the player and his manager look to move on from their latest training spat.
At the back, it will be interesting to see whether Mancini recalls Matija Nastasic or keeps faith with Joleon Lescott who has started the last two games after appearing to be the team’s forgotten man. The rest of the back four should pick itself with skipper Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy, and Pablo Zabaleta the names on the team sheet.
Much of the build-up to this weekend’s clash has centred around the ticket prices with City handing back just under 900 of their allocation of around 3000 as fans baulked at the £62 asking price. If the result is like the majority over the past four decades, those opting to now watch it from the comfort of their own home will feel that their decision has been vilified.
On the flipside, if City can finally manage to take three points from this fixture, those who did make the trip won’t be too bothered about the few quid missing from their wallets.