With the club confirming City’s away-day to Arsenal as another sell-out, Saturday will guarantee north-west London its second massive and vociferous away following in the space of five days.
While I’m not expecting Islington to be ablaze with green and yellow flares – or indeed for the Yellow Army to sing about playing “at home” – there is sure to be a wall of noise in at least one corner of the Emirates as City look to put right some of the wrongs of last season.
A big ask of course. Until their draw at the Hawthorns last time out, the Gunners – inspired by Gareth Barry tormentor-in-chief, Mesut Özil – had looked every inch Premier League champions material and were playing with a swagger that has epitomised the best Wenger teams of the last 17 years.
Their performance at West Brom was ‘sketchy’, by their own admission, but still earned them a point, continued their unbeaten run and consolidated their place at the top of the league. All of which makes the task awaiting Chris Hughton’s men appear tricky in the extreme.
On the plus side, City’s last two trips to the Emirates have produced incidents and talking points galore and have seen us take them to the wire on both occasions.
At the risk of upsetting our Arsenal readers (again) last season’s last-gasp defeat still leaves a slightly bitter taste, with City leading as the clock ticked 85 minutes only to concede three very late goals – the first via a debatable penalty and a third that looked suspiciously offside.
Similarly, in 2012 – in the dying days of the Lambert era – a late Steve Morison shot earned City a point in a 3-3 thriller; the draw being the least they deserved that afternoon having led 2-1 for forty-five minutes thanks to a Holt-Hoolahan first half salvo.
Obviously previous results will have little effect on what’s going to happen on Saturday – and I’m not expecting Messrs Fer, van Wolfwinkel, Hooper and co to give a monkey’s about last season’s myopic linesman – but City do at least head west in decent fettle off the back of two highly promising performances.
Indeed, if Team Hughton can marry the intensity of the Chelsea second half with the fluidity of the Stoke first-half then hopefully Saturday will not be the foregone conclusion the bookies and pundits predict.
Much will depend on the fitness – or otherwise – of Hughton’s troops; the international break no longer something that affects only those around us.
Anthony Pilkington is already a doubt for the weekend, having arrived back at Colney early courtesy of an injury picked up while training with the Republic of Ireland, but Hughton will be hoping all others – including Scotland goal hero, Robert Snodgrass – will return to the fold unscathed.
With the aforementioned Özil picking up a knee injury in Germany’s victory over Sweden, Wenger too will have to undertake a similar head-count at London Colney – the muster of the Frenchman’s expensively assembled globetrotters sure to take longer than Hughton’s – before his thoughts can turn to Saturday’s clash with City.
While not wishing ill on the German – his exposing of Barry’s limitations one of very few positives to emerge from South Africa 2010 – there’s little doubt an Arsenal minus Özil carries a significantly reduced threat. Having said that, reports emerging from North London late on Wednesday afternoon suggest he could yet be fit to face City on Saturday, so Hughton and co would be well advised to tweak their battle-plan accordingly.
As if a fit Özil isn’t enough, the same reports are also suggesting that Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott are approaching full-fitness; both in with a shout of making the Gunners squad for Saturday.
On a more positive note, at least from a City perspective, Bacary Sagna, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Abou Diaby still remain sidelined and won’t on this occasion need to form part of the Hughton pre-match briefing.
The big question for City fans will be which Hughton XI turns up at the weekend.
If it is the one that turned up against Chelsea directly before the international break and came within a whisker of claiming a point or three there will be few complaints from the travelling Yellow Army. On the flip side, if it’s the one that passed the ball so carelessly at Tottenham the rumblings will quickly resurface.
While some of the personnel may have been different the starkest difference was the approach… on the front foot and with a good tempo against Stoke and Chelsea compared to cautious and tepid at the Lane.
Some have already cited the similarities with Hodgson’s England; the – dare I say it – gung-ho approach of the last two games being in stark contrast to the turgid, defence-first displays we witnessed for the majority of qualification. Or, to put it another way… Milner v Townsend.
A salutary lesson in bravery perhaps?
Either way, let’s hope the travelling Army are given – Poland-like – something to latch on to and, even if on the wrong end, can still depart North London at 5pm with chests puffed out and pride intact.
“Never mind the danger…”