Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.

Arsène Wenger and his side face Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on Sunday so, to find out more, tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Ian Cheeseman gave their pre-match views.

Scouting Report - Tactics

A trip to last season’s champions is Arsenal’s toughest match of the 2012/13 Premier League season, and Manchester City boast an astonishing record of winning 25 of their last 26 home league matches. Arsène Wenger’s side will have to draw upon their performance at Anfield three weeks ago – defending narrow and compact, before breaking quickly.

City’s formation depends upon the players Roberto Mancini uses. It’s roughly a 4-2-3-1, but this shape usually features two wide midfielders coming inside to act as central playmakers (although Samir Nasri is out injured, so James Milner, Scott Sinclair or Mario Balotelli will stay wider). The system also depends on whether Roberto Mancini starts with two strikers, or Yaya Toure as the advanced midfielder – often, both formations are used in the same game.

There’s also a possibility Mancini could use a 3-4-1-2 formation. He trialled this in the Community Shield win over Chelsea, then played it in the 2-2 draw at Liverpool, before switching to it in midweek for the second half of the 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid. At the Bernabeu, the shape lacked protection down the right, where Maicon and his replacement Pablo Zabaleta were constantly overloaded by Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo. If City play that way again, Arsenal will hope the combination down the left, with Kieran Gibbs overlapping Lukas Podolski, is as effective as against Southampton last week.

This season, City have sat deeper without the ball than in 2011/12, when they were pressing energetically at this stage. Mancini will have seen how effectively Arsenal broke into space against Liverpool and Southampton, and how they failed to score against Stoke and Sunderland, sides that defended along the edge of the penalty box, preventing space in behind. They’ll look to keep the ball, but will probably be cautious with the number of players they commit into attack.

Going forward, City have an outstanding number of options. They have clever forwards in Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, who dovetail effectively – taking it in turns to drop deep and spin in behind. There is also Edin Dzeko, offering a more static threat in the penalty box and a target for crosses, or the raw power and speed of Mario Balotelli. Arsenal can expect to face at least three of these players at some point, and it will be the toughest challenge of the season for the back four.

Scouting Report - Tactics

I think this is going to be a fascinating game, and a very tricky one for Manchester City.

Obviously it was a difficult defeat for them on Tuesday. I think the emotion of twice being ahead and losing in Madrid is bound to have a little bit of an effect. Joe Hart’s interview after the game said it all – he looked very emotional. There’s a slight danger there’ll be a hangover from that game. On the other hand, they could feel as though they’ve got something to prove.

In terms of how Manchester City will line up, it’s very hard to say. Under Mancini it’s very difficult to guess the line up. He could play with three or four at the back. I think there’ll be personnel changes and Aguero, Lescott and Zabaleta could come into the team - Maybe Balotelli as well. Samir Nasri has tweaked a hamstring and is likely to be out for two or three weeks.

I think Yaya Toure is Manchester City’s key player. When he goes on those marauding runs forward, it tends to open up gaps that the likes of Tevez and Aguero exploit. Their strength is definitely going forward, and I think a lot of that comes from the role Toure plays.

As for Arsenal, they are a good team and are on fire at the moment. I’m expecting Arsenal to be confident and I think that now Robin van Persie has moved on, they’re not as predictable as they were. I think it will be a fascinating game with two sides that like to pass the ball.

But despite the open nature of both team’s play, I have a feeling this will be a low-scoring game. I think Manchester City will secure a narrow victory. I can see it being 1-0.

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21 Sep 2012