Friday 13 December 2013
In the 12:45pm kick-off on Saturday, the most prolific strikeforce in the Barclays Premier League will face the division's best defence this season as Manchester City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium. It is a clash that former City and Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann is relishing.
City are the league's leading scorers with 41 goals while Arsenal's defence have conceded 11 goals in 15 matches. In the last six league outings in which the central defenders Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have started together, the Arsenal defence has been breached just once but the pair will face an in-form strike duo in Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, who have scored 13 goals between them in the same period for City.
Hamann believes City's front two will provide Arsenal with their biggest challenge this season.
"It can be hard to find players who accommodate each other but in Negredo City have found the perfect partner for Aguero"
"It will be the ultimate test for Arsenal's defence," he told premierleague.com. "They have defended well and that is the biggest difference for them compared to the last few seasons.
"How are they going to cope with it? They [Arsenal] looked a little bit tired in the last two games against Everton and Napoli, so I’m not sure whether they can handle that strikeforce."
Only Liverpool striker Luis Suárez has scored more goals than Aguero's 12 this season, the Argentina forward enjoying his most prolific start to a campaign at Manchester City, and Hamann believes his partnership with the summer signing Negredo has been key to his success.
"Aguero scores in more or less every game he plays these days," said Hamann. "He's in tremendous form and on his day he is virtually unplayable with his pace and his trickery. And obviously now he has found the perfect partner in crime in Negredo. They work so well together. Negredo has had a huge impact.
"Sometimes it is very hard to find players who accommodate each other but in Negredo they have found the perfect partner for Aguero."
Hamann spent three years at City and the German is backing his former club to regain the Barclays Premier League title they won in 2011/12 because of the strength in depth. But he admits that a victory for Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium will enforce their position as title contenders.
"If Arsenal were to beat City, it would be massive," he said. "They would have nine points on City and obviously this is a big, big cushion if they can keep it over Christmas.
"Even if they don't win, even if they lose or draw, whatever the result is, Arsenal have shown enough in the first 15 games to show they are capable of winning the league.
"They are a joy to watch. Mesut Ozil has made a huge difference. I still fancy City to win the league, but Arsenal have shown enough in the first part to the season to make them serious title contenders."
Both teams enter the match on the back of UEFA Champions League fixtures midweek. City became on Tuesday the first team to beat the European champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena this season, while Arsenal were beaten 2-0 in Naples on Wednesday.
Hamann does not believe too much should be made of playing in midweek, despite the scale of Saturday’s tie, but is concerned that Wenger may pay the price for a lack of rotation.
"I wouldn’t read too much into it," he said of the midweek ties. "It’s not ideal but sometimes it is best, especially when you have had a disappointing result. You want to play the next game.
"I wouldn't blame the Wednesday game if something went wrong on Saturday. But generally speaking, Arsenal have played a lot of games and a lot of games with the same team.
"When you go to Man City you need a player with pace"
"Arsenal have had some very tough games, especially in the Champions League where every game was one where they couldn’t take their foot off the gas. I just think they look a little bit tired lately so it might be a bit of a worrying sign for Arsene Wenger."
Arsenal winger Theo Walcott made his comeback from an abdominal injury against his former club Southampton in November, but is yet to start a game since his recovery and has been limited to appearances from the substitutes' bench.
Hamann does not expect Walcott to start but believes a lack of pace in the Arsenal squad means he will still have a part to play.
"I don’t think he'll start the game," he said. "But we will see him at some stage because the way Arsenal shaped up against Napoli, they lacked pace. They didn't have a forward player with pace and if you go to Manchester City you need that."