Since Man City became a top team, a trip to Eastlands has become a real acid test. Arsenal's 3-0 win at Eastlands in October 2010 was impressive in its own right, but it's particularly noteworthy in light of the series of close results between the two teams since. City dropped just two points at home last season and to pick up a positive result on Sunday would be particularly impressive.
There's certainly a case to be made that Arsenal have performed roughly to expectations so far for a team which will finish in the top four, if you look at the results from last season. Dropping points at home to Sunderland was two points dropped compared to the previous campaign, but a win against Southampton was better than two points dropped against Wolves.
In the world where Twitter seems to dictate the moods of many, three consecutive wins is a sign we can compete for the League, and a dodgy draw means sending messages to Aaron Ramsey telling him he's the worst player evah [sic].
In a sensible world, Arsenal have performed creditably in the last three games, but there was enough cause for concern in Montpellier, and the two previous games were against weak(ish) opposition. That's not to say the team hasn't looked good. Having a playmaker, particularly one as good as Cazorla, has improved the team immeasurably.
Although the criticism that Arsenal were a one man team last year was false, we didn't create enough chances, which meant that there was a certain reliance on Van Persie to take those which fell his way, which he inevitably did. At least so far, the efficiency of our wingers seems enormously improved, which more than counteracts Van Persie's absence, and this is partly down to Cazorla putting them into better positions.
And so, to this particular fixture. In eight years at Arsenal, Van Persie managed one Premier League goal versus City, so it's not as if he has a great record against City for United fans to look forward to or for us to miss. That said, City haven't looked as fragile defensively in a long time as they have in their first few matches last season. For all of Sergio Aguero's goals, City won the League last season (in my eyes) by having the best defence. I would expect them to press us a lot more around the penalty area than they have in their last few matches, which means our players' first touches will need to be on song (yes, I'm looking at you Theo Walcott).
The reality is that although City have started the season relatively poorly, they've still won both home games they've played, and it's not exactly embarrassing to lose in the Bernabeu. Without Wojciech Szczesny, Mannone will continue in goal, and although he's done well thus far, he hasn't really been tested. Having watched him play for the reserves multiple times over a few years, I've never been convinced that he's a good goalkeeper, and it's hard to think he won't face proper scrutiny on Sunday.
The other area to watch - for me - is central midfield. The one time we've beaten City in the last five attempts, Alex Song caught Yaya Toure on the knee early on, and Toure hobbled around for fifteen minutes before going off injured. Apart from his replacement failing to tackle Arteta before the winning goal, Toure is one of City's best players. Whilst we're certainly a better team without Song, we've lost his physicality, and much will depend on how Diaby and Toure match up.
Whatever happens, I think it will be an interesting and low-scoring game of football, and hopefully we can come out on top!
Keep the faith.