Manchester City staged an impressive comeback to defeat Bayern Munich on Tuesday, although they may yet come to regret Manuel Pellegrini's miscalculation of how many goals they actually needed to score. The sums are a lot easier for Pellegrini on Saturday however as City return to league action and look for three points against league leaders Arsenal.
City are the league's top goalscorers with 41 goals to date, while Arsenal have the best defensive record with just 11 conceded so let's start our preview by looking at a breakdown of how these goals have been scored:
It is no surprise to see Arsenal's defence below average in all categories and City's attack above average in all but one. What stands out though is the 20 goals City have scored from open play shots in the box from passes or crosses. This tells us they are scoring the majority of their goals by way of their own skilful attacking ground play.
The same pattern can be seen if we extend the chart to all shots:
It is interesting to note that City are slightly below average for long range shots taken - they are patient on attack. Instead they are creating a huge volume of chances from shots with their feet, in the penalty box, that come from their own creativity.
These are exactly the type of chances with the highest expected goals value, although they are also arguable the most difficult to create. Fortunately for Pellegrini he is able to select a front six with the exact combination of skill and intelligence to achieve this. Earlier this week, Ted Knutson at Statsbomb described the effectiveness of their forward movement.
Let's take a closer look at that front six using the Inside FPL year-to-date statistics:
Last week we discussed how impressive Samir Nasri has been during David Silva's injury layoff. Nasri's expected assists per 90 minutes of 0.29 is elite but Silva's 0.44 is the highest in the entire league and the Spaniard is expected to return to the line-up Saturday. The chief beneficiary of their joint creativity is Sergio Aguero whose expected goals per 90 of 0.70 is also the highest in the league. It is clear from where the main threat to Arsenal's defensive record will come on Saturday.
So how can the Gunners go about stopping this threat? The main selection issue for Arsene Wenger would seem to be who to select in midfield, where he has a wealth of different options. Here we look at the statistics of those options:
It is often said that "attack is the best form of defence". If Wenger chooses this strategy he may well recall Theo Walcott who has the highest joint goal and assist numbers in his midfield. Walcott may be a goal threat but he isn't as well suited to a patient midfield passing game which this match may well become.
Alternatively, it can be argued that the best form of defence is to simply keep the ball out of your opponents possession. If Wenger opts for the latter strategy he may well go for the midfield five highlighted above, as these are his players with the highest completed passes per game.
So here are our expected line-ups:
Manchester City: Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; David Silva, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri; Negredo, Aguero
Arsenal: Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Özil, Cazorla; Giroud
Pantilimon vs Szczesny
City have dominated Expected Goals numbers on both sides of the ball this year yet are still only 4th in the table. One reason for this has been inconsistent goalkeeping, in particular from Joe Hart who has been replaced by Pantilimon for the last five matches. In contrast, Szczesny is having his best season to date but Saturday's match represents the toughest test to date for both 'keepers and FPL managers may look to their backups this week.
Silva & Nasri vs Flamini & Arteta
We saw earlier the creativity of Silva and Nasri and both love to operate in central areas between the oppositions defence and midfield. Hardly "dogs of war", Flamini and Arteta will be handed the unenviable task of denying them this space. We would confidently start both Silva and Nasri in FPL this week.
Özil & Ramsey vs Fernandinho and Yaya Toure
At the other end of the pitch Arsenal's main creative threat also comes through central areas via Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey. Both players have been FPL gold this year but managers may well have to temper expectations this week.
Zabaleta & Navas vs Gibbs
If the game pans out as discussed above the central midfield areas may well become very crowded on Saturday. Zabaleta provides an alternative outlet for City that Arsenal don't really have. The Argentine often works in tandem with Jesus Navas (who may start from the bench here) down the right and between them they have 32 key passes on the season.
Manchester City 2 Arsenal 0
City have too many creative options for even the best defence in the league to stop.