Pellegrini has masterminded a Man City resurgence
MAN CITY v ARSENAL
Manuel Pellegrini exudes such calmness, it seems nothing ever bothers him.
Not even when Manchester City languished eight points behind Premiership leaders Chelsea two months ago.
And not even when he had to play catch-up without his entire strikeforce because of injuries.
Yet, even during a notoriously tricky festive period, as questions began to be asked of City's decision not to replace the departed Alvaro Negredo, Pellegrini somehow found the right tactical blend.
Despite the spate of injuries to his forward line, the City manager guided his team to 16 out of a maximum 18 points in an incredible month.
The only blemish was a 2-2 home draw with Burnley in their final match of 2014.
His success with a depleted team didn't go unnoticed.
He enters today's game against Arsenal as the Barclays Premier League Manager of the Month.
The 61-year-old Chilean flourished under the pressure.
When those around reached for the panic button, he kept his head.
In spite of the absence of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic for much of last month, his team plundered 14 goals in six matches.
The striker-less system has been around for ages. But its execution still requires a level of finesse and tactical imagination many would struggle to pull off.
In three of the six matches last month - against Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and Burnley - midfielder James Milner operated as the auxiliary striker, supported by an array of attacking midfielders such as David Silva, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri.
When things weren't working out, Pellegrini demonstrated his tactical nous by switching players around on the pitch.
It worked a treat.
They are now within touching distance of Jose Mourinho's men.
City entered December under a cloud of gloom, but came out of it looking rejuvenated.
Such desperate measures, however, are unlikely to be seen again at the Etihad Stadium for some time.
City could have their original attacking cast back against the Gunners today.
The 19-goal Aguero is expected to start and Jovetic is available, although Dzeko faces a late fitness test.
However, Wilfried Bony, their recent capture from Swansea, is on African Nations Cup duty with Ivory Coast.
The addition of the most prolific Premiership striker of 2014, with 18 goals, will provide ample cover as they chase down Chelsea.
Soon, Pellegrini will be spoilt for choice.
The only headache he will be getting is over which strikers to pick, and not over who's fit to play.
BY THE NUMBERS
18 City have scored in 18 straight EPL games, their longest run since April-December 2011 (23 matches).
1 City have lost just one of their last six EPL meetings with Arsenal at the Etihad.
6 Six red cards were flashed in the last nine EPL clashes between both sides.
19 Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez has contributed the most EPL goals this season (19 goals - 12 strikes, seven assists).
'Time to rectify big-game record'
RETURN: Back-frominjury Mesut Oezil getting instructions from Arsene Wenger in their 3-0 win over Stoke last Sunday. - PHOTO: REUTERS
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists his charges are matured enough now to "rectify" their record against the big teams, starting with tonight's trip to Manchester City.
The Gunners have claimed only one point from a possible 21 in Manchester, and have won away at City only once in seven games.
However, the Frenchman believes the record has no bearing on tonight's game and believes his side can get a positive result.
He said: "You have many games when you know you will be judged on your potential.
"Manchester City is one of them. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are other games that people have a close eye on to judge your potential.
"They have always had good teams, but we have won at Manchester United, we have won at Manchester City.
"The history will not play a big part in this game. It's the performance on the day that will play the biggest part and the only important part."
The Gunners, who were leading the table at this stage last season, eventually saw their title bid fall apart due to inconsistency.
Said Wenger: "Last year, we did not win the championship only for that reason (inconsistency).
"We did not perform in the top games away from home.
"I believe we have the potential now to be much more stable and to show that we can do it.
"For many years, (our record in the biggest games) was our strength and, in the last two years, it is true that it has been a weakness. I think we are mature enough now to rectify it."
His task won't be easier as City's top scorer Sergio Aguero and captain Vincent Kompany have recovered from injuries and are set to start.
But Wenger believes his side can deal with them.
He said: "We want to have a good balance between attacking and defending because we know that City attack very well, so it's important that we do both sides of the game very well." - Wire Services.
For many years (our record in the biggest games) was our strength and, in the last two years, it is true that it has been a weakness. I think we are mature enough now to rectify it.
— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger