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A different kind of tough test

24 October 2010

City passed their first major hurdle of the season with a strong performance against Chelsea last month, outmuscling the physical West Londoners in a hard-fought 1-0 win. Today’s visit by Arsenal poses an entirely different challenge, as Arsène Wenger’s team will look to pass City off the pitch when the two title contenders battle at Eastlands.

Despite their superior position in the table and three straight wins for City, I’m not feeling particularly great going into this one, as they haven’t played well at all since that victory over Chelsea on September 25. The Gunner hadn’t been looking good until destroying Shakhtar Donestk mid-week in the Champions League, but it no coincidence they had been without captain Cesc Fàbregas during that slump in form, and Tuesday’s impressive performance marked his return.

Recent history in this fixture favors the hosts, with City owning a three-game winning streak at home against Arsenal, and by an impressive combined 10-2 scoreline. You can bet the Gunners will be motivated to atone for those poor showings by going in and pulling off a surprise today.

This fixture is best remembered for Emmanuel Adebayor’s audacity to celebrate a goal in front of the traveling supporters and the ensuring near-riot by the indignant Arsenal supporters. While the manufactured outrage swirled over the goal celebration, a nasty incident where the Togolese appeared to stamp on Robin van Persie’s face was the real flashpoint and showed his dark side. Despite a hat trick in Thursday’s Europa League win, Adebayor isn’t likely to start against his former club.

The run-up to this battle of English football’s weathiest club and its most profitable has featured a bit of back-and-forth between players on the two clubs, with Fàbregas telling City they can’t buy team spirit, and Joleon Lescott responding by pointing out the number of medals won by his teammates. It’s been cordial between the two managers, probably because Wenger is happy to see Mark Hughes gone after he engineered those last three home wins over his Gunners.

I’m hopeful of Kolo Touré’s return from injury in time for this one, as his strong tackling from the back would be very helpful against Arsenal’s attack and his deficiencies in the air are much less likely to be laid bare against an opponent that doesn’t do much in the air. If the vice-captain isn’t able to win a late race to be fit, I still feel all right about a Vincent Kompany and Lescott partnership in central defense.

The good news for City is that David Silva has been in great form lately, and seems to be adjusting well to the English game. Despite playing 75 minutes on Thursday, I think we may see him in the starting XI, along with James Milner and Carlos Tévez in the attack. Here’s what my team sheet would look like for this one:

Hopefully the kitchen is back open at The Banshee, where we’re expecting a decent crowd of Blues for this one. I’m hopeful the extra two days of rest for the visitors doesn’t manifest itself in an energy advantage for them, but the two sides’ form going into this one has me concerned. In light of that, a draw wouldn’t be the worst result in the world, though I’m hopeful of City continuing their winning ways with a 2-1 victory.

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