Arsenal v Manchester City - League Cup Final Preview
Setting aside the bitter taste of defeat from last Monday`s FA Cup exit along with the sour feelings generated by the bizarre, scattergun officiating, the unsavoury tunnel clash and the post-match aggravation which saw Sergio Aguero baited and subjected to some vile treatment…..it is time to focus upon Pep Guardiola`s first cup final as the coach of Manchester City.
Pep will be very, very eager to win this competition and I am quite sure that he will have worked hard over the past week to banish the disappointment of the FA Cup exit. He will also be acutely aware of the importance that this game has for the momentum that he will want to generate in his side as they enter the crucial phase of fixtures in the league and Champions League.
Securing a trophy will deliver the morale boost that he knows the players, club and supporters need to take on that challenge. Pep will also be well aware that this victory will chase away more than just the "he`s won nothing in England yet" tag, it will re-invigorate his squad physically and mentally.
The teams have never met in a domestic cup final but have played each other twice at Wembley in the Charity Shield in 1934 and the Community 2014. Sadly looking to these results does not bring any comfort for City fans with Arsenal winning both fixtures 4-0 and 3-0 respectively.
The team have met one other time at the national stadium in the semi-final of the FA Cup last season. Although City netted first in that game we eventually lost 2-1 having had a perfectly good goal chalked off by Sunday`s referee Craig Pawson after his assistant wrongly judged that the cross from Sané in the build up had gone out of play.
This time both clubs will get to experience the wonder that is VAR. Neil Swarbrick will be the man in charge of the system and along with his assistant Peter Kirkup will have the not inconsiderable responsibility for making sure the correct decisions will get made.
This will be the fist major final in which the technology will be used and it will be under intense scrutiny given the recent debacles in the FA Cup in the games at Liverpool and Huddersfield. The general consent seems to be that whilst it has delivered the correct decisions, the lack of transparency (no one knows what is going on) & the time taken to complete the reviews have undermined the system`s introduction.
To tackle the first issue & avoid the confusion witnessed elsewhere, Wembley officials have been instructed to put up a message on the stadium screens to inform supporters when VAR reviews are taking place. There is little that can be done about the second unless the officials get slicker in their use of the technology. Given that Sunday`s match referee, Craig Pawson, was in charge of the match between Liverpool and WBA when nearly four minutes were spent looking at the 3 incidents reviewed in the first half.
Let`s just hope that it isn`t needed.
The end result is that City have yet to leave the national stadium as victors against the London side.
Still……….that record has to be broken sometime doesn`t it and no better time the this Sunday!
Recent Form (last ten games all comps)
Arsenal W3 D2 L5
Man City W7 D1 L2
Despite City coming to the final arguably in the better form over the past ten games in all competitions we all know that this is only half the story.
Whilst Arsenal`s defeat at home in the Europa League on Thursday evening they can be buoyed by the fact that only a couple of the players who featured against Oestersunds FC are likely to start Sunday`s Cup Final. City on the other hand played a very strong starting XI against Wigan and were undone. It can be argued that it will be easier for Arsenal to shake off their home defeat given that they got the end result they wanted - progression to the next round of the Europa League whilst City could still be feeling the lingering aftereffects of the humbling defeat against League One opposition and the subsequent controversies.
How well the City players have recovered from that defeat this week could be the key to this game.
City`s League Cup record v Arsenal
P7 W1 D 1 L5
Arsenal have won the FA Cup a record 13 times, but have only won the League Cup twice - the last time was in 1993 when they defeated Sheffield Wednesday. They are however pretty good at winning finals given that they have lifted the FA Cup three times in the last four seasons.
City have won the cup on four times, including in 2014 and 2016. Our only defeat in the final of this competition came in 1974, when, after playing 11 games on the way to Wembley, we lost 2-1 to Wolves. Colin Bell scored the City goal.
Arsenal have doubts over Oil and Ramsey but I expect them to feature. Lacazette will be missing with knee injury and Cazorla remains sidelined with his long term plantaris injury.
City have Delph suspended after Monday`s debacle. The final has come too soon for Benjamin Mendy but Gabriel Jesus may be fit enough for a place on the bench after his knee ligament damage.
Arsenal player to watch:-
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon striker joined Arsenal in January following The Orange`s departure. He will still be adjusting to the Premier League and English football but has an excellent scoring pedigree in the Bundesliga and he will need watching.
I expect Pep will stick with Bravo (he has form for remaining loyal to his second string keeper in the cup competitions and has hinted as much this season). Delph`s absence may see the return of Zinchenko at left back. The big call will be the central defensive partnership where I am anticipating the experienced Kompany to be alongside Otamendi. With the peerless De Bruyne restored to the midfield alongside David Silva, Gundogan will begin on the bench. Pep may consider returning Sterling to the staring line up but I have elected for him to stick with the improving Bernardo Silva, with Sané on the left wing.
I have opted to gamble that Jesus will be on the bench and feature as a substitute. Aguero will lead the line keen I am sure to put the after-match events on Monday behind him - he has begun this process by taking the sensible decision not to pursue legal action against the moron who confronted him that evening. He has been identified and hopefully Wigan will do the right thing and ban the guy for life. The correct call IMO as it avoids dragging the matter out interminably & providing a media with at the sort of distracting circus act they just love.
Possible starting XI & subs
Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko
De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva D
Silva B, Aguero, Sané
Ederson, Danilo, Stones, Laporte, Gundogan, Jesus, Sterling.
There have been some blows for both the club and player (literally in Sergio`s case) recently but it is now time to blow away those cobwebs of doubt, time to to focus and deliver that first win over Arsenal at Wembley!
Come on City!!!