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Arsenal's striking options are boosted as Manchester City's decline

They do things differently, Arsenal and Manchester City. The former invariably qualifies for not just the Champions League, but its knockout stages. The latter can conquer England, but tends to make an early, sometimes ignominious, retreat from Europe's premier club competition.

By reputation, Arsenal is a saver and Manchester City a spender, though there has been something of a role reversal this summer, evidenced again in the final hours of the transfer window. Arsenal were the club buying a striker and City the ones parting company with an accomplished goal scorer.

Hello, Danny Welbeck and adios, Alvaro Negredo, who has moved to Valencia. The Englishman forms one of the subplots of Saturday's meeting between the two clubs at the Emirates. He could debut against City in a game the sidelined Spaniard was always going to miss.

Welbeck is a very Arsene Wenger-esque striker in many respects: young, versatile, a work in progress with a questionable scoring record -- just 29 in 142 games for Manchester United, even if substitute appearances and outings on the flanks hindered his chances of improving his ratio.

Welbeck has never scored 10 league goals in a Premier League season.

Meanwhile, there is a common thread among strikers City buy. They tend to be proven, not potential, performers -- and there is something ruthlessly pragmatic about their recruitment. City want finishers who are finished articles, and the club are willing to buy in bulk.

Go back to 2009, when City signed three strikers in the same summer: Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor. In both 2011 and 2013, City brought in two strikers, first Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli and then Stevan Jovetic and Negredo.

They can be judged by the numbers. If Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott are deemed wingers, Arsenal's three strikers scored only 24 goals (of which Olivier Giroud scored all but two) last season, while City's four (Aguero, Negredo, Jovetic and Edin Dzeko) mustered 83. If that is an outlier, it is not exceptional. A different City quartet -- Aguero, Dzeko, Tevez and Balotelli -- combined to strike 70 times in the 2011-12 campaign.

Tactics exacerbate the disparities, but different theories are being applied. Apart from the 2010-11 season, City's policy in the last five years has been to select two strikers. Manager Manuel Pellegrini's chosen shape has been 4-4-2, and while his predecessor Roberto Mancini used to insist his system was not, at the least, it came close.

- Cross: Welbeck has an immediate chance to impress
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In contrast, Arsenal long since halved their contingent of starting strikers by switching to 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3. For much of the last nine years, the centre-forward has been a solitary figure, supported by a band of attack-minded midfielders.

The logical element is that a side with two out-and-out strikers needs more of them, but City's preference for quartets has been pronounced. Strength in depth has tended to be required because, for much of the past three years, they have actually only been alternating between a trio: First came Tevez's exile to Argentina in 2011-12, then the January 2013 sale of Balotelli and, last season, the injuries Aguero and Jovetic suffered.

Yet City have had the insurance policy a four-strong strike force offers so that, when one is absent, options still exist -- whereas, when Giroud was ruled out for four months last season, Arsenal's dependence on one player was highlighted.

Before buying Welbeck, Wenger insisted the number of strikers he had was "absolutely unbelievable". He cited Podolski and Walcott, two men who covet a central role the Frenchman is unwilling to grant them, plus Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell, who both have yet to score a senior goal for the club, and Alexis Sanchez.

Compared to City, Wenger has more potential centre-forwards and fewer specialist strikers. He could have added Mesut Ozil, used as a false 9 at times by Germany, to the list. But it is notable that in the last two summers, the expectation was that Arsenal would recruit a new first-choice forward as their marquee signing.

Instead, neither Ozil nor Sanchez meets that description. Though the clinical Chilean is able to operate up front and did so superbly against Besiktas, he belongs in the ever bigger group of wingers, progressive midfielders and No. 10s.

Perhaps that should not be a surprise. Wenger has always had a fondness for multifunctional players, with assurance in possession the common denominator. His greatest strike partnership consisted of two men who weren't really strikers: Thierry Henry was a converted winger with a pronounced fondness for wandering off to the left flank, and Dennis Bergkamp was a classic No. 10 with a tendency to drop deeper in search of space.

Wenger has a reputation for coaxing the best out of young players with potential.

The third great forward of the Wenger era was a hybrid of the two. Robin van Persie, deemed a 9½ by his manager, possessed his fellow Dutchman's technical brilliance and flair for the spectacular.

In one respect, Welbeck, often used on the flanks by United, could follow in the footsteps of Henry and van Persie, wide men shifted to a central role by Wenger, even if a fundamental difference is that Welbeck has yet to prove himself a technician of the same calibre.

Yet Wenger is content to work with raw talents. If City buy strikers, he produces them after identifying the ability of emerging players employed elsewhere. Since Daniel Sturridge -- actually the finest forward to come through either club's youth system in the Premier League era -- left for Chelsea in 2009, City have never really had an equivalent of the rookie Sanogo, a youngster they are willing to promote when opportunities arise.

Now City's striking contingent is reduced to three by Negredo's departure. Yaya Toure will double up as the fourth forward after scoring 24 times last season when he outperformed most professional goal-getters.

Yet it points to a change in shape, and City -- who were outnumbered in midfield at times last season and in August's Community Shield defeat to Arsenal -- may abandon their attachment to two-striker systems in pivotal away games, two of which are imminent at Arsenal on Saturday and at Bayern Munich four days later.

In the first of those, City may arrive playing like their hosts, with an Arsenal-esque group of attacking midfielders -- indeed, in Samir Nasri's case, a former Gunner -- and a lone front man, while Wenger unveils a costly striker signing. Opposites are starting to show similarities.

Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.


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