Arsenal-Manchester City Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - It can be argued one of the reasons Manchester City were able to win the Premier League last season was due to a single-minded focus following their early elimination from both the Champions League and the Europa League.
If there were lessons learned from those exits, they will need to be applied Sunday at Etihad Stadium when the reigning champions try to regroup from a disheartening loss while hosting Arsenal, who enjoyed midweek success of their own.
In their stirring run to last season's league title, Manchester City (2-2-0) suffered hiccups in being bounced from the Champions League in group play in December and then from the second-tier Europa League in March by Sporting CP in the round of 16. Manager Roberto Mancini's team lost just one of its 10 league matches after that humbling exit, closing out the season with six straight victories to wrest the title from archrivals Manchester United.
Back in the Champions League again, City are presented with another opportunity to show their mettle in this match after a pulsating 3-2 loss to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid on Tuesday to open group play. Man City squandered a 2-1 lead in the final five minutes, conceding goals by Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.
The defence, one of City's strengths last season in conceding an EPL-low 29 goals, has been porous regardless of competition. They have given up six goals in league play, and Tuesday's loss may have exasperated Mancini to a breaking point with the lack of cohesion in the back.
"We didn't defend as we can on the edge of the box and made some mistakes," he told the team's official website before adding, "we cannot continue to defend this way and we need to resolve this problem quickly."
Mancini played four in the back versus Real Madrid and still appears undecided if he will switch to a 3-5-2 formation, something speculated with Maicon's recent arrival. The Brazilian was on the right side Tuesday and subbed out in the 74th minute for Pablo Zabaleta.
Carlos Tevez will again be the focal point for City offensively. He has registered a goal or an assist in all four matches and has a league-high eight shots on frame. It's uncertain if Mario Balotelli, who did not play Tuesday after angering Mancini by staying out late following last week's 1-all draw with Stoke City, will feature in this match.
While City's defence is a work in progress, Arsenal (2-2-0) have conceded one goal in league play to enter this match ahead of the title-holders on goal differential. The Gunners made a successful trip to Montpelier on Tuesday, rallying from an early deficit in a 2-1 victory on goals by Lukas Podolski and Gervinho in the 16th and 18th minutes, respectively.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was content to play mind games Friday, noting the difficulty City will have retaining the title and being pleased with his team thus far.
"Sometimes to do it again is harder," the Frenchman told Arsenal's official website about City's bid to repeat. "Everybody wants to beat you. The focus needs to be there.
"It's always interesting to go into these big games because you have the championship and then you have the big games... I am confident because we have quality, experience and a huge desire to do well together."
Arsenal's emergence on defence is a bit of a surprise as backup Vito Mannone has deputised well in place of the injured Wojciech Szczesny, posting two clean sheets in league play while making six saves. The 24-year-old Mannone made four saves Tuesday, conceding only a penalty.
The sides traded 1-0 home victories last season, with David Silva giving City the win in the corresponding fixture last season.
Updated September 21, 2012