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Arsenal will need a miracle at the Etihad

The game between Napoli and Manchester City on Wednesday night in the Uefa Champions League, is the kind that every football fan would have loved to watch.

That includes even those who enjoy parking the bus. That 4-2 was a thriller, even as Napoli were left leaking their wounds. That is how terrorizing Manchester City has become lately; a reason Pep Guardiola cannot stop smiling.

Wherever they go these days, a lot of debris is left. Real footballing lessons are what they inflict. You can only shudder to imagine what Arsenal can do to stop this juggernaut, come Sunday at the Etihad.

Putting sentiment aside, it would be foolhardy for anyone to believe that Arsenal even stands a chance in this one. Only a miracle can save Arsenal from being mauled to a point, that even their remaining dignity is crashed.

Maybe this time, Arsene Wenger has no option but park a mini-bus and play on the counter. I know it would be unacceptable to the fans for Arsenal to harbour any minimalistic psychology.

For a team of their status, the Gunners as they are called, always have to get into any match guns blazing, taking the ball to the opponent and forcing the issue.

But this is Man-City we are talking about; in the form of their lives. Their passing game, speed and proficiency in front of goal is simply unbelievable. And let us face it, Arsenal is nowhere near that level. Do not be fooled by the 5-2 win at Everton.

Then Everton was an opponent who was low on confidence. Yet, in Man-City, is a team flying high with exuberance. That should prove a big test for Arsenal’s defence, for which one would not be mistaken to suggest that it is there for the taking.

This means Arsenal cannot press so much high up the field. Playing with the shorter distance to their goal is what can enable Arsenal keep their shape and protect their goal better.

Otherwise, to face Man-City now, one can ill afford to have their defence as the weak link. Of course defending will require collective effort from everyone beginning with a buffer in front of the defence, which is likely to be a back three.

For example, Mohamed El Neny (Francis Coquelin) and Granit Xhaka look as must starters. This would relieve Mesut Ozil of too much defensive duty, yet allowing him to roam more upfront, while he tries to create scoring chances.

Playing two defensive midfielders would imply that Aaron Ramsey could be sacrificed, or may be the central striker, in this case Alexander Lacazette.

But the team will always need a pin-point, to whom the final pass is played. That too would keep the Man-City central defence at bay, which would lessen the pressure on Arsenal, but also keep Man-City busy, having to defend near their goal.

You see, Man-City thrive a lot on their pressing game. Probably no one does it as well as they do in the English Premier League.

They are best at suffocating teams into submission because of it. So, Arsenal cannot afford to play with any arrogance, like they would against a Swansea or Watford.

Man-City’s quick movement off the ball easily gets them behind the opposition lines. Because of the variation Man-City has in its play, they can go through the middle with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva or through the wings with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, who are difficult to tame.

It is that exact fact, that has seen Man-City bury many already. Having already lost 0-4 to Liverpool earlier in the season, yet we all know how much better Man-City is, any shade of laxity on Arsenal’s side can see a repeat of the 6-3 from a few seasons ago.

For the neutral it would be a thriller. But for Arsenal to suffer another heavy defeat, like many predict, is demeaning and confidence sapping.

Yet, a marginal loss or a draw for Arsenal, can still keep their self- esteem alive, like I am sure Napoli must be wondering, whether it was the right decision to open up, when they levelled matters to 2-2.

jovi@observer.ug

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