By Chris Harris
It's easy to forget that Manchester City almost slipped through the relegation trap door last season. The future looked bleak at Eastlands this time last year but City survived and have gone from strength to strength ever since.
Sven Goran Eriksson and a handful of shrewd summer signings have seen to that with Elano and Martin Petrov adding flair and creativity to a City side built on strong defensive foundations. Indeed, they are probably just one prolific striker short of a very effective team.
City's away form is pretty poor but they are still unbeaten at home. The twin pillars of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards are largely responsible for that and even the in-form Emmanuel Adebayor could struggle to breach a City back four which has conceded just eight goals at Eastlands this season.
We asked Chris Bailey of the Manchester Evening News for a City perspective ahead of Saturday's big game. Read on for his verdict on Sven, the unsung heroes in the City squad, the transfer-deadline scramble, the prospect of European football and the support for Arsenal in the blue half of Manchester.
STORY SO FAR
"It has been mainly positive. If you had told City fans they'd be where they are now at the start of the season they'd have snapped your hands off. This time last year they were looking for wins to stay above the bottom three or four. It has been a great transformation. The last five or six weeks haven't been great but overall it's been a good season. The fans' faith in Sven has been rewarded. He had to spend a bit of money but he has proved himself astute in the transfer market. He brought in eight players before the transfer deadline ran out and they have all mixed well with the exception of Roland Bianchi. Sven is showing what a class act he is as a club manager. You don't win all those titles without knowing what you're doing."
MEN OF THE MOMENT
"City certainly aren't scoring as many as they'd like to so the pressure is on the defence. Richard Dunne has been player of the season for the last three years so that shows what the fans think of him. Micah Richards gets more plaudits, he's a bit more showy, a bit quicker and younger, but it's Dunne who organises that back four, it's Dunne who barks out instructions and Richards follows them. Corluka and Michael Ball have done well too so the back four is pretty good. That's not the problem, it's ball-winning in midfield and scoring goals.
"Didi Hamann would have to come into the equation too for City's player of the season award. He was nowhere last year but has played nearly all the games this season, although he was rested on Wednesday at Derby. He has been outstanding. His knowhow, his ability to buy a yard of space, his organisational skills, he is certainly a contender. People outside City talk about Elano and Martin Petrov but Elano hasn't really played that well since he picked up an injury while he was away with Brazil. He's played OK but he's not been the startling Elano who took everybody by storm at the start of the season. Petrov is the big attacking threat but he doesn't always like tracking back into his own half."
"As we understand it there is a deal in place for Benjani but it needs A, B and C to fall into place before it goes through. I think it's dependent on Portsmouth getting a replacement but as soon as they do I think that deal might go through. They've bought Felipe Caicedo, a 19-year-old Ecuador international from Switzerland. So Sven has been busy in the transfer window and with Daniel Sturridge scoring goals perhaps the striking options are increasing."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"After Arsenal they play United in the derby and then Everton, they've had just one win in seven in the league so top four might be beyond them this season. March and April aren't quite so taxing so City could still finish sixth or seventh and, depending on who wins the cups, that might be good enough for European football next season. That was the aim within three years so they would be ahead of schedule."
"No one is definitely missing except Michael Johnson, who's got an abdominal problem. Valeri Bojinov, a striker, shattered his knee early on in the season. Richards didn't play in midweek so he'll have a fitness test on Friday. Nedum Onuoha missed Derby with a slight hamstring pull but he might be fit to return. Garrido had a chest infection so we'll wait and see if he's well again. I think City will mirror Arsenal. They played 4-4-2 in midweek and will probably play a similar style to Arsenal, although Arsenal are probably better at it. The game at Emirates was a good open game with chances at both ends and I would expect something similar. It should be worth watching."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"The Man City view of Arsenal is 'can you please finish top with United second?' That would be the first and foremost thought! Eriksson summed it up perfectly himself. There are two outstanding footballing sides in this country and that's Arsenal and Manchester United so it's no surprise they are first and second in the League. Arsenal have got a lot of admirers in the City camp and I think most teams would like to be that good. In fact, Eriksson is on record as saying it's his long-term aim to build a team in the image of Arsenal. He's a great believer in the way Arsène Wenger sets his team up and builds his club."