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Arsenal need to find an extra gear against Manchester City

Arsenal will need to improve if they are to get anything from Manchester City on Saturday, with their midweek defeat to Napoli rendering them vulnerable.

Alex Livesey

It's an unfortunate point to consider that such mundanities might have a drastic effect on the location of silverware at the end of the season, but the fixture list can only be ignored for truly exceptional teams. For others, it almost comes to define a season. While talk of conspiracies and unfair dealings is ridiculous -- a difficult run at one point means an easy run at another -- it can never account for the timing of big games and their potential to influence seasons.

Arsenal will travel to Manchester City at the weekend ill-prepared after suffering a defeat to Napoli in midweek. Arsene Wenger chose to rest players and lean on his lesser options, but that plan failed, very nearly catastrophically. Their current squad is difficult to gauge right now. It consists of good players who are in form, like Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, elite players playing slightly within themselves like Mesut Özil, and unknown quantities like Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.

It may well be that the likes of Giroud and Koscielny are late developers, but without any real extended runs of excellent form before, we can only reasonably state that they are good, not great players enjoying a purple patch. Giroud was good in France, and while his tally this season is impressive, he still seems limited in the range of goals he scores, and it's doubtful whether Arsenal still couldn't use a top-class striker in his place.

With Özil, the club still has time for him to develop and show his best form. His effect on the club appears to have been mostly metaphysical, and his talent has been shown in brief spells and moves rather than single-handedly turning big games or destroying opponents. He was next to anonymous against Manchester United at Old Trafford, precisely the sort of game Arsenal should be looking to him to make the difference in.

Ramsey and Wilshere are difficult to nail down. Only idiots wrote off the former during his poor run, given what an astonishingly good player he looked before he broke his leg, but we still can't say for sure if he'll be able to continue to maintain the level that he's been playing at so far this season. Wilshere, meanwhile, while always highly-rated, has not yet had a consistent run of imperious form -- we can't know whether flashes like his early goal against Marseille was a glimpse of brilliance or a sign of things to come.

In short, we can't really know how good this team is just yet. What we do know is that they're top of the league, but their rivals have a tremendous amount of space in which to grow, which Arsenal simply don't. Manchester United will spend in January to begin to address their long-term problems. José Mourinho will figure out Chelsea's squad and settle the striker conundrum. And Manchester City will halt their miserable away form. Given the quality among their ranks, there is little precedent to suggest such malaises will continue for the rest of the season.

Arsenal, meanwhile, can only really do about as well as they have been. And they'll need to keep it up, particularly against Manchester City at home -- probably the most difficult fixture in the league -- this weekend. The defeat at Old Trafford came with a team that looked tired, and they'll only have had two days of preparation for the trip, after fielding a full-strength side in Naples to no avail.

There may only be a thin sliver of room for Arsenal to play even better, but they'll need to find it. If they can hold City's stars at bay while Özil finds a decisive moment of brilliance to steal it, they will be vindicated, as they will if Ramsey and Wilshere can benefit from their benching to take control of the game against a side that have been in such impressive home form. As it stands, however, it looks as though tiredness will condemn them to a comfortable defeat.

Arsenal's success so far this season has been based on reliably defeating the mid-table teams with ease, which none of their rivals have been able to do. It has them top of the league for now, and it will do until one of their rivals can sort themselves out. But Wenger will know that unless they can find that extra gear, they can't rely on the mistakes of others.