Ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester City, Danny Pugsley, manager and all-around great writer over at Bitter and Blue, was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions from us here about City:
You spoke about City's midfield gradually losing their grip on the match against Chelsea--do you think that there will be changes this Sunday against Arsenal in the personnel, or do you think Arsenal's midfield three provide a different challenge?
No I don't think so. Mancini has been fairly consistent with his selection of late and I wouldn't expect a huge number of changes. From the starting line-up from last Monday, he could bring in Dzeko, Nasri and de Jong and I do think Nasri could get a start - possibly in place of Milner or maybe with one the strikers dropping to the bench. Whereas last season Mancini may have opted for caution against their nearest rivals, this season he has seen an attacking approach largely pay dividends so rather than trying to gameplan for Arsenal he will look (particularly being at home) to take the game to them.
Gael Clichy is a player that many Arsenal supporters were sad to see leave, while others felt his time had passed (and it's too bad he won't feature on Sunday due to suspension). How have you felt about his play for City so far?
When City landed Clichy I thought it was a decent signing, but not a significant upgrade over Aleksandar Kolarov and wasn't the player who could (finally) make the position his own. The view from Arsenal fans I'd spoken to echoed this but I have been largely impressed by him so far. The game at Chelsea wasn't one his best one by any stretch but he - particularly in tandem with Micah Richards - has been an important part of the side, providing the attacking width needed given the midfield and attack have for the most part been narrow in their approach. He doesn't have a huge body of evidence in terms of his City career but he has made a solid start to his time at the club.
Samir Nasri is obviously another former Gunner--do you think he has added much to City's attack this season, or do you feel he's more of a squad player right now?
Nasri had a fast start with the club and definitely contributed to some of the early season victories (with the assists stat being widely quoted). He then seemed to tail off a little but did have probably his best game in the last home game against Norwich. I am always reticent to judge new players too early on as it takes both the player and the side to settle and adapt to one another. At times though Nasri has been squeezed out in certain games depending on the line-up Mancini has opted for but has seemed to play his better games when Mancini has gone with two strikers, which affords him and Silva a little more space behind them. His quality is evident and over the course of the season he is going to feature prominently.
Do you feel that having so many quality players is a blessing (it allows for rotation with little drop in quality) or a curse (players get upset about drop in playing time, like Tevez), or somewhere in the middle?
This is an issue often written about but take any issues with Tevez out of the equation and City has a squad that is as unified as much as any. There has been enough rotation in the squad to keep players happy and even those such as Adam Johnson or Nigel de Jong for instance have managed a decent number of minutes. Looking at the fixtures coming up over the next ten weeks or (until the end of February) it really is a congested period so the squad they have will be fully utilised and having that strength in depth will ensure there is little drop off in terms of quality. That said, there are certain players - Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure and Silva - who are pretty much 'untouchables' and it will be interesting to see how much Mancini rotates those four in particular. I suspect very little.
If you were picking the squad for a winner-take-all game and had to choose the best possible team, with all players healthy and available, who do you pick?
Hart, Richards, Clichy, Kompany, Lescott, Barry, Yaya, Milner, Silva, Aguero, Dzeko.
Do you have a prediction for Sunday?
It's an interesting one as Arsenal come into the game on a run of decent form and City's home record in particular is very good this season. Obviously the defeat to Chelsea has chipped away at impenetrability surrounding City this season so Arsenal will sense an opportunity to strike, but equally City will be looking to rebound with something to prove. It wouldn't be a surprise to me whatever the result but I'll take City to edge it in what I think will be an entertaining game.