x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arsenal out to test Manchester City's title credentials

Suddenly the questions are being asked of Manchester City. This afternoon¿s chief inquisitor, Arsene Wenger, could not be more motivated.

Manchester City could be knocked off their perch at the top of the Premier League should they lose to Arsenal today.
Manchester City could be knocked off their perch at the top of the Premier League should they lose to Arsenal today.

Suddenly the questions are being asked of Manchester City. This afternoon's chief inquisitor could not be more motivated.

By kick off at the Etihad Stadium, a City side that some suggested might go the whole Premier League campaign unbeaten may no longer even be top of the division. If Arsene Wenger has his way they will end the day firmly behind the champions, Manchester United, resuming their own early season ascendency.

Andre Villas-Boas, the Chelsea manager, talks so often of emotions you wonder if he moonlights as an agony aunt. Wenger's preoccupation is with the psychology of success. Arsenal's manager has all his players psychometrically profiled; he places almost every result in the context of his team's mental state and he knows that converting excellence into titles is as much about conviction as quality.

Well will he note the element of uncertainty, of redrawn expectations, that has crept into City dialogue. In the wake of Monday's visit to Stamford Bridge, in which the leaders traded dominance for doubts, Micah Richards sought to redirect pressure to United in a manner that highlighted its presence at his own club.

"I think at the start of the season United were the favourites and, regardless of how we've played, they're still favourites," Richards said. "If we win the league it will be a massive achievement on our side. United won it last year and we came into this season to build and try fighting them for it."

Intriguingly, for a club that has so regularly turned Arsenal into an enforced finishing school for talent, City may have developed some of the same susceptibilities as Wenger's recent sides. Roberto Mancini's forward line has become the most fluidly destructive in the division, but its dizzying complexity can be an occasional weakness.

As has been the way at Arsenal, attacking strategy is something Mancini mostly leaves to his footballers to create on the pitch. If the magic is not working on a given day the team's defensive imbalances - City have conceded in each of their last eight league fixtures - can turn from minor annoyance into major aggravation.

Wenger's disdain for City's lavish funding is intensely felt and oft expressed. Selling Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure in 2009 proved a profitable way of dispensing with a striker who strained relationships with both supporters and colleagues, and cashing in on a defender entering his declining years.

Losing Gael Clichy this summer was an acceptable trade given the left-back's uncertainty under long balls and waning contract. The hugely inflated terms offered to Samir Nasri, however, forced Wenger into the unprecedented sacrifice of a player "at an age where they start to produce" to a direct competitor. "To lose players at that age in the summer was a big blow, to me and to the club," he said.

The Frenchman is already steeling himself for the next assault. Robin van Persie is headed into the same kind of turbulent waters as Nasri entered last season, stating that he does not intend to discuss a new deal at Arsenal until his current one enters its final 12 months next summer. Meanwhile, City coaches and players sing siren songs to a Holland international concluding the most goal-laden year of his career.

"We'd welcome any great players here and he is one," Joleon Lescott said last week. Fellow defender Richards paired Van Persie with David Silva as "probably the best two players in the Premier League at the moment, on form".

Should Arsenal be handed the Nasri ultimatum of leaving for nothing 12 months down the line, they can be expected to sell and City to offer wages at least the equal of Nasri's.

As good as City have become at putting such questions to others, it is the questions asked of themselves that will determine if this is to be their season.

"I think all the football is like that," Yaya Toure said. "To be a big winner you have to understand that sometimes you have to lose."

But only a little.

sports@thenational.ae

8pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5

The Barclays Premier League will celebrate a significant landmark in the coming week as players up and down the country look to score the 20,000th goal since the Premier League began in 1992.

To mark the occasion Barclays, title sponsor of the Premier League will give the scorer £20,000 (Dh114,000) to donate to a charity of his choice.

Previous landmark goals have come from across the country with Sheffield United striker Brian Deane scoring the first Premier League goal on 15 August 1992 against Manchester United.

Blackburn Rovers front man Chris Sutton claimed the 5,000th goal in 1996, and Les Ferdinand hit the 10,000th goal whilst playing for Tottenham Hotspur in 2001.

Fulham defender Moritz Volz was the surprise scorer of the 15,000th goal, one of just two Barclays Premier League goals in his time at Craven Cottage.