Arsenal appear outgunned, but Wenger won't concede attack vs. Man City
Arsenal's task on Sunday is not a normal one. How do you stop a team scoring at a rate that threatens to smash records? A team described by the coach of their opponents in midweek, Napoli, as "the best team in Europe led by the best coach in Europe?"
There are clearly no easy answers and it is a problem exacerbated by Arsene Wenger's consistent struggle to find the right approach against the bigger sides. Arsenal have gone 14 games without an away win against a member of the top six. In that time they have registered just six points. It is a poor record that would be pretty unimpressive for a midtable side.
The last victory recorded in such circumstances actually came away against City in Jan. 2015, a match chiefly notable for the reinvention of Santi Cazorla as a deep-lying playmaker and the unusual sight of seeing Arsenal employ cautious tactics and a counter-attacking strategy.
Standards have dropped so far in regard to away trips to top-six teams that a 0-0 draw away at Chelsea earlier this season was seen as some sort of great leap forward. And it certainly was refreshing, as Arsenal defended well from the front and matched the defending champions all over the pitch.
The lesson of these two matches, and the many defeats in between in which Arsenal adopted a cavalier approach and was punished for it, would seem to suggest that a safety-first approach would serve Wenger best on Sunday, especially against a team that has more ways to open you up than a Swiss Army knife.
But is that really the case? Wenger seemed to disagree in his pre-match news conference. His answer on the question of whether he would try and shut the match down bears repeating.
"The best way to defend sometimes is to attack," Wenger said. "When you want to play football, you have to accept the risk and you have to play. ... Is it a bigger risk only to defend than to attack if a team is very strong in attack? Maybe it is a bigger risk only to defend."
The analysis rings true -- for this Arsenal team against this Manchester City team, at least. For a start, it is basically inconceivable that City will not score at least one goal -- maybe two and probably three.
In winning nine of their 10 Premier League games this season and drawing the other, Manchester City have scored an astronomical 35 goals. In Sergio Aguero (seven goals), Raheem Sterling (seven), Leroy Sane (six) and Gabriel Jesus (six) they have four of the top six scorers in the division. If City continue this kind of form, theirs will be the kind of attacking force that has been rarely assembled in the history of the English game.
Arsenal have conceded 13 already, the second-most of any club in the top six, two more than promoted Brighton and the same as Swansea, who currently sit in 18th place. Arsenal have a serviceable back three of Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, but not a lot in the way of protection from midfield, if Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey play in the two central roles, at least. The area between the two lines is one where City excel: it is not inconceivable that Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne will all start.
De Bruyne in particular has been electric this season, perfectly weighting each pass as if his life depends on it. Even if Arsenal do sit back and try and soak up pressure, it is not hard to see City finding a way through.
And so, with their team front-loaded with exceptional talents in the forward roles, maybe attack really will be the best form of defence for Wenger. Defeat is by far the most likely result whatever team he chooses and whatever strategy he employs, but a trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette at least stand a chance of causing real problems to a City defence, like Arsenal's, which is not the premium feature of the team and doesn't have a great deal of protection.
The problem against City is having the ball long enough to construct something promising. On the few occasions Arsenal do carve out a shot on goal, they need to be ruthless. Maybe the answer is trying to catch City off-guard with a proactive approach.
Whatever Arsenal do, they have to be intelligent, organised and prepared. All too often those traits seem absent when they make a trip to one of the established powers. Any weaknesses will be punished ruthlessly on Sunday.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport