Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is refusing to use their hectic run of fixtures as an excuse heading into their top-of-the-table clash with Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday.
After taking on Everton on Sunday, the Premier League leaders had a tough trip to take on Napoli on Wednesday. Their opponents, meanwhile, have enjoyed an extra day of rest since beating Bayern Munich. While admitting that the situation wasn’t ideal, Wenger remains upbeat.
"To be completely honest, if you had given me the opportunity to do it I would not have done it like that, but I do not complain," he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. "That is not an excuse for us at all, we have the fixtures we have.
"It is another opportunity to show we have the mental strength to deal with it."
Still, it was just days after another tough European away trip, against Borussia Dortmund, that Arsenal lost only their second game in the Premier League, against Manchester United last month. Wenger, though, believes he has learned the lessons from Old Trafford and his side will bring the required intensity from the start at the Etihad.
“What we can learn from Old Trafford is that it took us one half to be completely ourselves,” he explained. “I think we have learned from that and we will go into the game [at City] on full cylinders.
“I believe first of all that you need a strong defensive performance and maybe the best way to do that is to attack and [keep] the ball and not let them find their flow.”
Not only will Manchester City benefit from the extra recuperation time, but they should also be overflowing with confidence. While Arsenal fell to defeat in Naples, City produced a superb comeback to beat the European champions, 3-2. Having made it through to the Champions League Round of 16, City can now fully focus on the Premier League and clawing back the six-point advantage held over them by Arsenal.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini was not shying away from the opportunity Saturday’s match presents to close the gap.
“This is our opportunity to take three important points against the best team in the Premier League at the moment,” he said, according to Manchester City’s official website.
“For Arsenal and for our team, this is a very important game. They play one day after we did in the Champions League. Maybe our match was not exactly the same but I don’t think that will be an advantage or those things will decide the game. I think the way both teams will play will be more important.”
City fielded a much-changed side in Munich and the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero are expected to return at the Etihad. While there are reports that Joe Hart will keep his place in goal, and get the nod over Costel Pantilimon to play his first Premier League match since his error gifted Chelsea a late winner in October, the Romanian has done nothing wrong since being handed the gloves. Gael Clichy, Matija Nastasic and Micah Richards will miss out with injuries, but Stevan Jovetic has returned to full training.
Arsenal are waiting on a late fitness test to determine whether Bacary Sagna will be able to return from a hamstring injury. Lukas Podolski is available, but Wenger hinted that the German forward won’t be involved after close to four months out.
Manchester City (probable)
D: Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Kolarov
M: Navas, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva
F: Aguero, Negredo
D: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Arteta, Ramsey
Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.