Pitchside Europe

Vastly-improved Nasri has tools to down old club

The sheer volume of players making the move from Arsenal to Manchester City in recent seasons has ballooned a rivalry between the teams that otherwise might not have been so strong given that a gulf in quality had developed between the sides.

Arsenal, previously such a dominant force in England football, looked to have hit a wall at the end of last season, with fourth place becoming a realistic target in the last few campaigns.

This season, though, things have changed. Mesut Özil has proved to be that marque signing the Gunners have needed, and now, nearly halfway through the current campaign, are top of the Premier League, five points clear of their nearest challengers, Liverpool and Chelsea.

On Saturday, Arsène Wenger takes his side, who boast the best away record in the top flight this season (16 points from seven games on the road), to the most daunting of venues.

At present, Old Trafford is not as fearsome a ground to play at as the Etihad. Manuel Pellegrini has overseen seven wins from seven in the league since taking over as manager in the summer, while only European champions Bayern Munich have avoided defeat there in 11 games in all competitions this campaign.

These teams have showcased real quality against Bayern though; they, along with Borussia Dortmund, are the only teams to have beaten the 2012/13 treble winners in the last 13 months.

City and Arsenal now have the personnel in their squads to beat the best, and both will be challenging for the title come May; to call this a six-pointer despite the fact we still have not yet reached Christmas is still wholly accurate. The atmosphere in the City of Manchester Stadium is set to be electric.

That this game is between title challengers only fuels a fire that was already burning further. The contingent of former Arsenal players at City has depleted, but Gaël Clichy and Samir Nasri are both expected to line up for the hosts on Saturday, and their presence will give Arsenal sufficient motivation to win.

Nasri has come back into form after something of a dip in his second season at the Etihad and is now amongst the first choice players having been on the periphery for much of last term.

With four goals this season, he already has twice as many as he managed in the whole of the last campaign, and though he picked up seven assists last term compared to two this, his overall gameplay has been so vastly improved that his average WhoScored.com rating has jumped from 6.81 to 7.26.

He has maintained one of the best pass success rates in England's top tier (90.5 per cent) and by some distance the best of any player to occupy as attack-minded a role. Given how crowded the pitch is higher up, this is vastly impressive, and his tally of 271 completed passes in the final third is the fourth highest in the Premier League.

Moving the ball around near the opponent's goal as his side probe for an opening is key to Nasri's game, and he will be integral in this regard come Saturday. Arsenal have proved incredibly difficult to break down this season, and they boast a defensive record three goals better (11 conceded) than any other team in the Premier League this season.

On Saturday, when the titans do battle in a game that will have huge repercussions in the race for the title, Nasri's eye for a killer ball could be vital.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Alistair Tweedale (On Twitter: @alitweedale)