Arsenal will be facing a Manchester City squad on Saturday that features their Romanian giant, Costel Pantilimon. While this is the first Premier League match Pantilimon will start against them, the Arsenal squad are no strangers to the Romanian goalkeeper. A year ago in a friendly that was held in Beijing, Pantilimon held them scoreless for a 2-0 City win. The year before that, Pantilimon racked up his first shutout against them in a League cup quarter final. City won that match 1-0. It does appear that the over-sized goalie has a handle on how to stymie the Arsenal attack.
At 6’8″, Pantilimon is the tallest player in the Premier League. He initially joined Manchester City as a one-year transfer from Politehnica Timisoara as the backup for then first-string keeper Joe Hart. In January of 2012, he became the permanent backup goalie until City coach Manuel Pellegrini gave him the start this season. Pantilimon has a record of 4-1-1 in his six games this season, which appears to have cemented him in the number one spot for the time being. Pantilimon is a popular figure, and his physical sense of humor overcomes his shortcomings with respect to the English language.
Manchester City will take on an Arsenal team that is 5 points clear at the top of the Premier League standings. Pantilimon and Manchester City will be facing the giant challenge of keeping Arsenal from going home with another three points. It means the difference between being three points behind the league leaders as opposed to a deficit of nine.
Both Manchester City and Arsenal have demonstrated similar issues with their play in recent matches. Whether over-confidence, a lack of fitness,or a lack of attention, both teams appear to have issues finishing games out. Neither team lacks for offensive intensity. They tend to start off well, but haven’t ended up closing out the wins when they have the opportunity. While this is a deficiency more often associated with City, both are coming off of Premier League matches that they could have won, but didn’t. Arsenal surrendered their lead over Everton last Sunday late in the game, to end in a 1-1 tie. Manchester City gave up an equalizing goal to Sunderland, and spent the second half in the fruitless pursuit of a goal in their 1-1 result.
City showed progress in their Champions League victory over Bayern Munich earlier this week. Though it made no difference in terms of position in their group ultimately, their comeback from a two goal deficit demonstrated a move in a positive direction toward finishing. City is a scoring machine on the offensive end. They lead the Premier League with 41 goals already this year. Although the Arsenal defense has shown improvement on the defensive end, they have allowed 11 goals in their last 15 matches. City has a real chance to score early, as they like to do, but the match will hinge on whether or not the play of Pantilimon and the City defense can help them keep the trend going. Facing the giant hurdle of keeping Manchester City from falling a crippling nine points behind Arsenal, Pantilimon appears to be ready and might just be up to the challenge.
By Jim Malone