Monday Verdict: Man City XI better than Arsenal’s

Date published: Monday 18th January 2016 12:38

Eliaquim Mangala: Keeps a close eye on Theo Walcott

Eliaquim Mangala: Keeps a close eye on Theo Walcott

As injuries ease, Arsenal and Manchester City could provide us with one of the best Premier League title battles in years, writes Mark Holmes.


Arsenal were certainly not at their best in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Stoke City, but a point at a stadium where Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all lost to nil this season is not to be sniffed at.

Certainly not when you consider that Arsene Wenger was without two of his best players in Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.

It is worth pointing out, though, that Manchester City were without Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero the day they lost at the Britannia Stadium. They have also at times had to do without David Silva, who was absent in three of their five defeats in the Premier League so far this season.

We have a habit in this country of making wild judgements on the back of one-off results, ruling teams in and out of the title race depending on how they have performed that particular day. But the reality is that neither Arsenal, City nor any other club in the Premier League has a strong enough squad not to suffer in the absence of two or three key players.

The exciting thing for us neutrals is that, finally, we might be about to see these two title challengers go on a run of games with close to their strongest XIs available. Aguero is back and scoring again for City, who remain without Kompany but will soon welcome back the crucial Fernandinho, while Sanchez and Ozil should both be available for Arsenal’s game against Chelsea next weekend.

Some may find it disrespectful not to mention Leicester City or Tottenham at this point, but neither side will be able to keep pace with Arsenal and City if they can keep their key players for the rest of the season.

And neither of those could cope as well as Arsenal or City have were they to lose Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mazhred or Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld. Leicester are certainly not in a false position, while Spurs have been the Premier League’s most impressive side of late, but the depth and quality available to Arsenal and City will eventually tell.

There have been suggestions that this season’s Premier League is weaker than usual, but the overall standard is certainly up, and a fully-fit Arsenal versus a fully-fit Manchester City could yet turn out to be one of the best title races in years.


Just for fun, it is interesting to compare the two club’s strongest XIs in a bid to work out which one might come out on top in a parallel universe of no injuries, fatigue or suspensions.

Petr Cech vs Joe Hart: Cech’s performance at Stoke on Sunday undoubtedly earned Arsenal a point. It was not just his saves that made the difference, it was his confidence in commanding his area. Hart is an excellent shot-stopper but is not yet at that level. Verdict: Arsenal

Hector Bellerin vs Bacary Sagna: Pablo Zabaleta started for City against Crystal Palace on Saturday, but Sagna seems to be Pellegrini’s preferred choice these days. He is certainly a threat going forward, but defensively he is not fully trustworthy. Bellerin is the better all-round full-back. Verdict: Arsenal

Laurent Koscielny & Per Mertesacker vs Vincent Kompany & Nicolas Otamendi: Koscielny and Kompany are the Premier League’s two best central defenders, and the latter’s continued absence could yet prove crucial in the title race. Mertesacker, meanwhile, is often ridiculed yet arguably more reliable than any of City’s centre-backs, but Kompany alongside either Otamendi or Eliaquim Mangala edges out the Arsenal pairing in this particular observer’s opinion. Verdict: Man City

Nacho Monreal vs Aleksandar Kolarov: Like Sagna, Kolarov is excellent on the attack but not the most convincing of defenders. Arsenal now have two full-backs equally adept at both ends of the pitch. Verdict: Arsenal

Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla vs Fernandinho and Yaya Toure: This is where the water is muddied slightly as Aaron Ramsey has thrown his hat into the ring for a regular role in central midfield, while Jack Wilshere could also eventually come into contention. But sticking with the most common pairings of this season, Fernandinho has been outstanding, while Toure is not what he was but still provides crucial moments of quality on a consistent basis. Coquelin and Cazorla’s partnership was a revelation, but they couldn’t cope with the City duo on top form. Verdict: Man City

Aaron Ramsey vs Kevin De Bruyne: Again, Arsenal fans may argue that Joel Campbell is now the best choice on the right, but the likelihood is that he will make way once everybody is back fit. Whoever Wenger picks, nobody can hold a candle to De Bruyne, who has been outstanding in his first season back in the Premier League. Verdict: Man City

Mesut Ozil vs David Silva: This is undoubtedly the closest match up of the lot. Ozil’s exploits so far this season certainly far outweigh those of Silva, but the Spaniard on top form is as good as any No.10 in the world. Nobody could say with any great confidence that one is better than the other. Verdict: Draw

Alexis Sanchez vs Raheem Sterling: This on the other hand is a rather easier choice. Sterling has done OK since his big money move from Liverpool, but he has a long way to go until he can be mentioned in the same breath as Alexis. Verdict: Arsenal

Olivier Giroud vs Sergio Aguero: There is very little between these two teams, but Aguero could well be the difference in this season’s title race. Giroud is a fine, underrated, striker, but he is not among the best in the world. Aguero is. If he can stay fit between now and the end of the season, City will take some stopping.

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Home Forums Monday Verdict: Man City XI better than Arsenal’s

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    Mark Holmes

    As injuries ease, Arsenal and Manchester City could provide us with one of the best Premier League title battles in years, says Mark Holmes.

    [See the full post at: Monday Verdict: Man City XI better than Arsenal’s]


    Mancity Jim

    Oops lighting the blue touch paper there Mark? Lol



    what about leicster?!


    Mancity Jim

    you have put Ramsey over KDB, that has surprised me Mark!


    Mark Holmes

    Ha! Possibly, but I don’t think even the most ardent Arsenal fan would deny that Aguero is better than Giroud, though I’m sure plenty of people on both sides of the fence will disagree with my FB, CB and CM choices. Hopefully it’ll make for a decent debate – it’s only a bit of fun remember!

    What would your joint XI be, Jim?

    PS. That was a typo – KDB over Ramsey all day long!


    Mancity Jim

    I will come back you shortly on that one!




    Mancity Jim

    Ha!, I really rate Ramsey, but KDB has been nothing short of superb for us since he joined. He has it all, touch, awareness, time on the ball, excellent passing ability and he runs and works hard all game. Brilliant player.


    Mancity Jim

    CM lol.


    I nearly agree with you mark although I’d choose kos and mertesacker mainly because i think kos is as good as kompany and mertesacker is better than mangala – not seen enough of otamendi. Plus you have the added benefit of them being more likely to stay fit over a season. And i’d obviously choose ozil over silva, simply because i think his vision and ability to create chances is unparalleled. No one even comes close, just my 2 penneth.


    Mark Holmes

    That’s fair enough, TipTapGoal, as I think it’s a very close call between the two CB pairings. For the neutral it will be very exciting to see what the two teams can do if everyone is fit…though I’d like a few injuries when we go to the Etihad!


    It’s always fun to compare players like that and I agree with everything Mark has put down but it’s always what these players do as a group that counts in the end.
    On another note it’s interesting and probably the sign of the times that there’s a Monday Verdict that doesn’t include anything on the biggest rivalry fixture of English football that took place in Liverpool this weekend.


    Mark Holmes

    Adrian, I tend not to write about games that I haven’t seen and I only caught bits of Liverpool v Man Utd because I was at Stoke. But from the highlights that I’ve seen, I’d have been hard pressed to write much about it anyway!


    Florin Cojanu

    I’m an Arsenal and I also think De Bruyne is over Ramsey. Sometimes I like to imagine how Arsenal would have looked with KDB in the first 11 :).
    Although Koscielny is almost up there with Kompany, as the best 2 CB in the league … Kompany is the one who runs City’s defence. If he wasnt injured I think City would have been 5-6 points ahead in this particular moment.

    The biggest difference between the 2 teams is that Arsenal looks more like a team under a good manager, and City looks like 7-8 world class players who dont really care about their manager.


    Mancity Jim

    Cech just over Hart then zabba, kompany, koscielny, monreal, carzola, fernandinio, Silva, Dr Byrne, Sanchez Aguero.


    Mark Holmes

    I’d go along with that, Jim, though I’m not sure whether I’d leave Toure out even when he’s playing badly. Do you think Zabaleta will keep his place now? Sagna’s well dodgy IMO.



    Florin, I’d partly go along with that. I think Arsenal, for all the criticism they get over their mental strength, do actuality have a knack of being able to stay in a game because their philosophy is so dangerous and effective. Where they fall down at times is the lack of characters to fight and take responsibility.

    As for City their performances seem a lot more dependent on their quality players, and they too lack fighters. Kompany when fit is worth two or three players to them.



    Nuts to Sanchez or Sterling, stick Silva on the left, can’t leave either of him or Ozil out, between them they could find the City of Atlantis with a pass.


    Mancity Jim

    Mark imo Toure is still a great player he can pick a pass others can’t see, rearly loses the ball and knows where the goal is. But he can in games be a luxury. Certainly he doesn’t chase down opponents like he used to a couple of years ago. So he doesn’t really break up play or tackle as effectively as someone like Delph does. Neither does he make the storming runs from midfield into the box as often as he used to. Its a tough call but too many great midfielders in both sides. I thought Sagna wasn’t great when he first came to us, he looked unfit and slow and his passing wasn’t up to much especially going forward. But this season he has been much improved in all areas. Zabba has had injury problems this season, but on Sat he looked close to being back to his best. On form I wouldn’t swap him for any other full back in the league. Aside from being a great player, he just has an affinity with fans like some players do. Jim



    The whole best first 11 is void given neither team will likely have their best 11 for the rest of the season.

    Kompany seems to be carrying a mystery injury. He missed 3 or 4 weeks, came back and was subbed off after 8 minutes and hasnt played since. Its never a good sign when a player has a mystery injury that ends his comeback after 8 minutes. Not least of all when his next comeback is listed as ‘indefinite ‘. The whole premise of suggesting Man City have a better defence than Arsenal must surely rest with Kompany being fit, given Otamendi and Mangala have struggled, even though a recent run of three consecutive clean sheets suggest they might have turned a corner – I am not convinced.

    I also disagree with how the players were lined up against each other. Walcott and Sanchez are Arsenals first choice wide players, and as a pairing I would rate them above De Bruyne and Sterling. Ramsey is playing in midfield now, and looks to have found his goal scoring touch, and thus his opposite is Toure. I for one think Toure is a luxury player . He could have saved Man City on his own against Arsenal, but why play like a passenger for 80 minutes during which your team goes 2-0 down?

    Due to Toure’s lack of effort, hasn’t Silva been played out wide on occasion as Toure couldnt possibly play in the middle with Silva as the number 10 as it would leave Fernandinho almost on his own. Ozil can play in his preferred orle very week due to the players around him working as they are supposed to.

    So its more than simply comparing players, you need to factor in their attitude and how they work for each other. Every midfielder at Arsenal is known to work hard, Sanchez, Walcott, Flamini, Ramsey (just), even Ozil has learnt to close down.
    I have said it before, and that is I really think one of the reasons City have won only 1 away game in the last 3 months in the premier league, is because Toure refuses to work and close down, and his refusal to work upsets tactics as well as the defensive unit. At home, he can dominate and bully teams, which can explain why City can win 5-0 every second home game, but away from home when you don’t see the ball as much, as the other team is more adventurous getting players foward, is must be a strain on the rest of the City players, hence why City have only 1 away game in 3 months of premier league football.

    So with key players out, and ‘key’ players perhaps not being so key as one would think, this is the reason I am optimistic about Arsenal winning it. Especially with Ozil and Sanchez back this week, and Coquelin, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Cazorla all due back in roughly a month. Not to mention Elneny has just been signed.

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