By Nick Teale
Arsenal head to Eastlands on Saturday to take on a new-look Manchester City side whose ultimate aim is to break into the top four - perhaps at the expense of the Gunners themselves.
Mark Hughes' side have splashed the cash over the summer, reportedly spending in excess of £120million on a wealth of Premier League experience. That amount of expenditure and expectation at Man City only adds extra pressure to a group of, admittedly highly-talented, players still blending in at their new club. However results on the pitch have been favourable. They are one of only four teams yet to drop a point and their backline is still to be breached.
But if their goal of Champions League football is to be achieved, Man City must improve on last season's results against the 'Big Four' clubs.
They lost six of their eight match-ups against the Premier League's elite, picking up just four points from a possible 24.
Their one top four scalp was Arsenal. They comprehensively defeated the Gunners 3-0 at The City of Manchester Stadium last November. Arsène Wenger certainly won't want to see that scoreline repeated on Saturday.
Hughes' side now boasts a wealth of striking talent. Carlos Tevez has been ruled out of the game with a knee injury but Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy and Robinho are all available. So too is a goalscorer the Gunners know all about - Emmanuel Adebayor.
The Arsenal defence, minus Kolo Toure of course, will have to be at its best on Saturday. But looking at the stats, there is every reason to be optimistic.
The Gunners have won 52 per cent of their last 50 trips to teams in the top half (not including the big four). When Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna start together, they have never been defeated. And the pair have been on the winning side in seven out of those nine encounters.
It's not just Clichy and Sagna who seem to increase Arsenal's winning ratio. When William Gallas has played alongside the latter, Arsenal have won 63 per cent of their matches, and have yet to lose in eight games. Clichy and Gallas are also unbeaten with a 60 per cent winning rate from 10 games.
Sagna has never lost in 16 games away to teams residing in the top half when hosting Arsenal (again excluding the top four).
The team record stacks up too. This season and last, against the top half but without the big four, Wenger's side collected an average of 2.43 points per game away from home. The average at Emirates Stadium was 1.33 - a whole point less.
Statistically, Arsenal do better against top-half sides on their travels.
And, remember, Saturday's game is in Manchester.
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