Ahead of Sunday's encounter against Arsenal at The Etihad, Bluemoon caught up with Andrew from Arseblog,Pedro from Le Grove and Yogi's Warrior from A Cultured Left Foot to get the lowdown on the opposition...
What are your expectations for this season?
A: Improvement on last season, both in terms of points and performance, but also to challenge for the title. Not necessarily win it, but to be in the mix right until the end of the season.
P: For the first time for about 7 years I have pretty high expectations of our season. Well, high 'we don't really spend that much money' expectations. I think pound for pound, our strongest starting 11 is a match for anyone. We've added steal and discipline to the back line, we've added creativity and responsibility to our midfield... and up front, well, I'm not really sure what we've added there. However, the loss of Robin Van Persie has given the rest of the side the collective confidence to create goals between them.
Y: I expect us to do well, better than last time around. I always start a season optimistically but we have made strong additions to the squad. Despite the bitterness, it is impossible to think RvP will not be missed but Alex Song? Not particularly and Mikel Arteta playing the
deeper role seems to be working well.
Are you happy with the manager?
A: He is frustrating at times, no doubt, but for the most part, yes.
P: Le Grove has been quite a dissenting voice when it comes to the manager over the past 5 years we've been running. His insistence on doing things on a budget, not bringing in experience and not spending the cash he's had at his disposal had left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the supporters. This season preseason though, he did a few things I have a lot of admiration for. Firstly, he changed up the back room staff. He brought in Steve Bould, who I said at the time was our signing of the summer. He also brought through Neil Banfield to freshen up the coaching staff. We've got enthusiasm, new ideas and somebody who has played under both Wenger and George Graham looking after our back 5. He also shipped out the players who didn't care about the club. Namely Alex Song but as it turned out... Robin Van Persie. He then went out and invested in players on the verge of being great. Just like he used to, back when he was the best in the world. So in answer to your question, so far, I'm happy with the manger and his change of direction.
Y: Yes. He has made mistakes, is not infallible but there are few who could have maintained Arsenal’s presence in the top four during a tough financial spell.
Who are your key players?
A: The defensive improvement has been noticeable since Steve Bould has come in as assistant manager, and the pairing of Vermaelen and Mertesacker has been very impressive. However, it's hard to think the two Spaniards in midfield haven't played a big part too. Mikel Arteta has slotted in seamlessly as the anchor man, playing with a discipline and focus the previous incumbent did not, while Santi Cazorla means we're much more likely to create something at the top end of the midfield.
P: Our key players so far this season have been:
Arteta. What a buy this guy has been. He's not spectacular, but he's experienced, technically supreme and he has sacrificed a huge amount of his game to give us midfield stability. I can't speak highly enough of the job he's done for Arsenal since he arrived. If he gives a world class performance tomorrow, City are going to find it tough to break us down.
Cazorla. I'm absolutely shocked we picked up a player of this guys talent for about £2million more than Matt Jarvis and about £3million less that Sunderland paid for Fletcher. He's been our signing of the summer so far. He's absolutely tiny but gifted with both feet. His range of passing, his skill and his drive is a sight to behold. For me, he's more exciting to watch than Cesc Fabregas. We're lucky to have him, if he's on form tomorrow, we'll be in for a treat.
Diaby. I've just named our whole midfield here, but Diaby is the closest player we've got to Yaya Toure. In fact, I'm sure he referenced his style as similar to Yaya. He's an incredibly gifted player who has never had the rub of the green when it comes to injuries. When he's on, he's on. Trouble is, we don't see it often enough. Or we see it for 5 games then he disappears on medical leave for 8 months. He's been very good so far this season, can he prove he's a big game player? Tomorrow we'll find out.
Y: The heart of the team is better, there is more collective responsibility. In midfield though Arteta and Cazorla have been outstanding whilst Podolski has improved the left flank as well as adding goals.
Were you happy with the business conducted during the transfer window?
A: Yes, we bought early and well, but I do think we could probably have spent again before the window closed. Another striker might have taken some of the burden off Olivier Giroud but then Gervinho has three goals already this season and that's pretty unexpected. I still worry that we might be a bit light as the season goes on but so far so good. Cazorla looks an absolute steal.
P: No one likes to lose their best players. At Arsenal, we've grown accustomed to it happening every summer. However, £24million is good business for a player who is 29 and injury prone. Losing Alex Song was a bit of a blow as we didn't replace him. I'm not sure we've got a squad big enough to last the pace this year, but ultimately, we're a far more impressive outfit this year with Giroud, Podolski, Carzorla and the returning Wilshere and Diaby... and obviously, promoting Steve Bould to look after the defence.
Y: Overall, yes. The signings were strong and whilst van Persie’s defection was disappointing, the squad feels more balanced this season.
Are there any rising stars in the squad that we might not have heard of?
A: The squad is more mature these days, without such a reliance on youth, so far that reason there aren't too many bubbling under. However, keep an eye out for young German Serge Gnabry who should make his debut in the Capital One Cup, he's very highly thought of.
P: The player who has the most potential to make an impact this season is probably Coquelin. He's been with us a few years now and he spent half a season with Lorient last year. He's a defensive midfielder with a superb range of passing. He's powerful, pacey and he's probably about ready to put his stake in the ground to become a serious contender for first team football.
Y: Two lads you might not have seen much of have great potential: Diaby and Wilshere...Other than that, there is a rich seam of talent of which Gnabry and Eisfeld have done well recently. The League Cup will offer them a good showcase for their talents.
Your Achilles heel?
A: I guess there'll be a perception that we're still weak defensively as it's been just 5 games this season, so there's still something to prove there. With Szczesny missing Vito Mannone gets a chance in goal and there's obvious improvement but again we have to wait and see how he performs in the longer term.
P: We have two issues this year. The first one is our goalkeeping situation. Vito Mannone will probably play on Sunday and although he's been keeping clean sheets, technically, he's not very impressive. In my opininon, he's an accident waiting to happen. The trouble is, our first team keeper Szczesny is having a crisis of confidence. He dropped some high profile clangers in this summer for Poland and he picked up where he left off with a very poor performance against Southampton. Our second issue is our striking options. Olivier Giroud was the top scorer in France last year but he's failed to score a goal so far this season. It'll come good for him, he just needs to get the first one in the back of the net. Outside him, we don't really have a striker. Podolski plays outwide for us and in the last game we moved Gervinho centrally. I fear in the big games when you need a world class striker hat we'll be found wanting.
Y: At the moment, it feels like goalkeepers are causing a problem. Mannone has the ability but is prone to lapses. So far, he has not been punished for them this season and with each game, he seems to be improving.
If you could have any City player in your team who would you choose?
A: Sergio Aguero. He's brilliant.
P: Ohhh... tough question. You have so many top class players. I personally love Vincent Kompany. An absolute monster of a centre back with that scary drive and determination to win everyone wants to see in a captain. However, the player I'd have liked the most is the one we had on trial. Yaya Toure is the perfect midfielder. A box to box beast with the power of boxer blended with the flair of a continental striker. Oh how Arsenal could have done with his presence over the past 5 years!
Y: Joe Hart or Vincent Kompany but I think Wenger would probably opt for Silva. He seems like his sort of player.
What is your perception of City as a club?
A: I have to admit I find the injection of wealth into City, like that at Chelsea, PSG and others, hard to take. It's great for City and City fans, obviously, but I'm not sure it's great for football. Transfer fees rise, wages rise, and, having lost some players to you that we probably didn't want to lose there's an underhandedness about the way you do your business that I don't like. Of course, it's not all down to City, TV money skews the game far more than anything else, so it's just something we have to live with. I have no real faith that FFP will make a difference, but I do think it should be mandatory for clubs to operate like real businesses, spend what you have and what you generate, not what's gifted to you. That said, you've paid for about 1/4 of our stadium at this stage, so we've not done too badly out of it.
P: I think like most football fans, I'm pretty jealous of the rise to prominence. I think the money spent getting where you've got to has been quite vulgar. However, I think you're doing a lot of good things. I like how you kept faith with Mancini through some of the darker times. I like the investment you've made in the community and with your new training ground, and without meaning to sound patronising, if there are any fans that deserve the riches of glory you're experiencing now... it's the City fans. You were all there when you dropped down into the lower reaches of the football league. You'll all still all be there if the money disappears. I just hope you don't suffer the trappings of becoming a glamour club as Arsenal have to a certain degree as Chelsea certainly have!
Y: My concern is whether backers such as City’s owners are in it for the long run. What happens if they are not although football has a peculiar habit of finding someone else to run the show. I am not bothered by the salaries per se but the drip down effect on the game as a whole is worrying. Would I want Arsenal to follow suit? No.
As for City buying the best players, am I jealous? Not particularly, there are some you think, “Bugger, he’d do well at Arsenal” but others you question the purchase. I’m philosophical about it all – you buy what you can afford and trust the manager to mould them into something that can challenge for silverware.
Likely starting XI for the game, and score prediction?
A: Mannone - Jenkinson - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Gibbs - Arteta - Diaby - Cazorla - Podolski - Gervinho - Giroud.
Jenkinson Vermaelen Mertesacker Gibbs
Gervinho Grioud Podolski
My gut feel is we might be looking at a 1-1 draw...
Y: Mannone; Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Cazorla, Arteta, Diaby; Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski