Carabao Cup: Arsenal vs Manchester City – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Arsenal and Manchester City will lock horns at Wembley this weekend in a bid to take ownership of the Carabao Cup.
16:30 GMT, Sunday 25th February, Wembley Stadium (London, England), Sky Sports
The Carabao Cup comes to a denouement on Sunday with Arsenal and Manchester City fighting it out for the trophy at Wembley.
Both clubs have suffered setbacks in recent weeks. Manchester City, touted by some as potential quadruple winners, found themselves dumped unceremoniously from the FA Cup by League One promotion hopefuls Wigan Athletic.
Should Pep Guardiola give up two competitions in so many weeks, there will be some who will question whether or not his side have been flagging in the second part of the season, putting the Manchester-based team under some pressure to come out firing at the weekend.
As for Arsene Wenger, with his team drawing an AC Milan rejuvenated under Gennaro Gattuso, the Carabao Cup final represents what is probably his best chance of a trophy this season.
However, regardless of how attractive the prospect of silverware is, the League Cup will not give Arsenal free passage into the Champions League and so Wenger might already be picking his team with an eye to the Round of 16 fixtures in Europe.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 1-2 Ostersunds FK (Europa League)
Going into the match with a 3-0 away win to their name, Arsenal seemed intent on throwing away any buffer they might have, conceding twice in consecutive minutes to give their supporters and early scare.
Graham Potter’s Ostersund looked good for their lead though, picked up through goals from Hosam Aiesh and Ken Sema, both of whom were ably supplied by Saman Ghoddos.
Whatever Wenger said to his team in the break, it worked in some sense at least: shortly after the restart, Sead Kolasinac pulled one back for the Gunners and pushed the game out of reach from the Svenska Cupen winners.
Despite easing through Arsenal were far from convincing and will have to do much better if they are to overturn Manchester City on Sunday.
Wigan Athletic 1-0 Manchester City (FA Cup)
By some strange coincidence, the teams that Manchester City have struggled against this season have been lower league sides, the most recent of whom was Wigan Athletic.
Even with Manchester City putting out a not-unimpressive side, they could not work their way past Paul Crook’s Greater Manchester-based side in a match that was marred by disagreements between personnel from both clubs.
After Fernandinho got sent off by referee Anthony Taylor, it was always going to be a difficult task for Manchester City to progress. However, they continued to dominate the game regardless, keeping Wigan on the back foot.
When Kyle Walker failed to control a pass, he allowed internet sensation Will Grigg to nip in front of him and, despite the best efforts of the Manchester City defence, slot the ball away past Claudio Bravo in goal.
With Henrikh Mkhitaryan cup-tied, Aaron Ramsey still not quite fighting fit and Alexandre Lacazette still recovering from ankle surgery, Arsene Wenger has something of a selection headache in front of him.
Should Ramsey be fit, expect to see him alongside Granit Xhaka in the midfield area. If not, Wenger might prefer the more robust Mohamed Elneny.
Beyond them, Jack Wilshere should play as a No 10 flanked by Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi deputising for the absent Armenian.
Manchester City Lineup
Benjamin Mendy remains out injured with an anterior cruciate ligament injury and fellow left-back Fabian Delph has been suspended following his red card at Wigan. The more defensively minded Danilo could be preferred over central-midfielder-cum-left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Elsewhere, Raheem Sterling is a doubt and his replacement is most likely to be Bernardo Silva. Gabriel Jesus is also back in contention after a lengthy lay-off and could make the bench.
Key Battle: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) vs John Stones (Manchester City)
Both Aubameyang and Stones have a lot to prove going into this encounter.
Whilst both have shown they have the ability to perform at the highest level in previous seasons, this season has thrown up new questions about the two.
For Aubameyang, those questions are born of a change of geography. Can the Gabonese striker perform at the same level in English football as he did in German football?
To this point that question remains unanswered. After a debut goal at the Emirates when Everton visited, the former Dortmund man was kept quiet by Tottenham for the North London derby.
If he can score at Wembley, Aubameyang will go a long way towards writing his legend in the annals of Arsenal football club.
Stones has a different problem. Having cemented his place in the team at the beginning of the season, he now seems to have taken steps backwards.
With the all-too-familiar mistakes that punctuated the early parts of his stint at Manchester City creeping back into his game in recent months, a cup final is the last place that an accident-prone player will want to be.
If Stones can keep Aubameyang quiet, the Carabao Cup could head back to Manchester. But he could have everything to do with it staying in London.
Wenger’s record in finals
Last season, with the FA Cup semifinals featuring a stellar lineup of Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, many pundits had the Gunners written off from the outset.
In the end, though, Wenger won tactical battles with Mauricio Pochettino and Antonio Conte, picking up the FA Cup for the third time in his career.
These are the one-off encounters that the Frenchman thrives on. If he can out-smart Guardiola, then it will stand as a stark reminder of how much footballing acumen the Arsenal manager has: a fact that has been forgotten all-too-easily in recent seasons.
Guardiola’s left back problem
The travails of Pep Guardiola are not particularly onerous by anyone’s standards. Chief amongst them is the left back conundrum with which he has been faced since the early parts of the season.
With Benjamin Mendy still suffering from a cruciate ligament injury, the Catalan manager had gone to two traditional central midfielders to take up the slack.
Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko have performed admirably in the fullback position, largely because Guardiola likes his wingbacks to invert.
On Sunday, with Delph suspended thanks to the red card he picked up against Wigan, the Manchester City manager may elect to go with Danilo over Zinchenko just for defensive solidity.
Danilo is a fullback, albeit a right-sided one by trade, a fact which just goes to show the embarrassment of riches that Guardiola has available to him.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City
Regardless of their blip last week, it’s hard to see Manchester City not coming through this encounter as the winners.
However, Arsene Wenger should not be underestimated. This will be a tough game for the league leaders and Arsenal have enough fire-power to score against them.
Expect City to win by a narrow margin, perhaps even taking the game to extra time before eventually conceding.