If Arsenal are to stand any chance of coming away from the Etihad Stadium with anything to show for their efforts they must focus on improving their first-half performance.
A recurring feature of this fledgling season has been the Gunners inability to play at their best from the first whistle. Too often, the team has been under par, slow, and predictable in the opening 45 minutes and, as a result, they have often failed to make a breakthrough, or have had to play catchup to get themselves back into games.
Invariably, the half-time break has given Arsenal the chance to re-organise and, more often than not, they have been a much improved proposition in the second half of matches, playing much quicker and more cohesively.
According to whoscored.com, Arsenal have averaged 0.8 goals per game in the opening 45 minutes of league and European matches so far this season.
In the second half, however, the Gunners have averaged 1.1 goals per game. Although seemingly marginal, 0.3 goals per game equates to more than four goals across the 14 games we have played so far this season. That is telling.
And the comparison continues when you look at other offensive aspects of the game. In terms of shots, Arsenal have averaged 7.9 in the first half of matches this season, versus 8.9 shots in the second half of games.
Looking at key passes, we average 5.7 in the first half of matches, and 7.1 in the second half.
We have also conceded more goals in the first half of games this season than we have in the second half of games.
Quite why the Gunners have underwhelmed in the first half of games this season is unclear – perhaps it is simply bad preparation – but one thing is clear: if they do the same against Manchester City on Sunday, the match will be over before half-time arrives.
Pep Guardiola’s side have been in rampant mood so far this season and are well on course to romp home in the league, barring some sensational collapse in form.
While their weaknesses in defence remain, they continue to be able to score goals with frightening regularity and, quite simply, outscore their opposition.
Given Arsenal’s defensive struggles of recent times, one can’t help but fear the worst and especially so when you take their first half performances into consideration.
Sunday’s clash will not be the sort of match the team can ease into. They will need to be disciplined and organised from the outset, as they were against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. They will need to close space, make tackles, keep their shape, and keep the ball moving if they hope to make an impact.
It is difficult to look at Sunday’s match with anything other than dread. In all likelihood, City will win, and win comfortably, and send Arsenal into a short period of calamity and chaos again in the process.
But there remains a glimmer of hope, as there always is with Arsenal, that they will be able to pull something quite spectacular out of the bag. If they are to do so, however, they must dispense with the slow start.
They must perform as well in minute one as they do in minute 89. Anything less and the 4-0 slamming they took at Anfield may look respectable by comparison.