It’s been a week few dared to predict. An out-of-sorts Leicester City thrashed Manchester City with only two late goals giving the scoreline a sheen of respectability. Which was quickly followed by an out-of-sorts Everton coming from behind to beat Arsenal on Tuesday, a result which seemed highly unlikely after the opening twenty minutes or so.
The Gunners first Premier League loss since they lost 3 – 4 to Everton’s Merseyside neighbours, Liverpool; Manchester City haven’t lived up to Pep Guardiola’s hype after a strong start.
And while all this is happening, Chelsea plough ahead with a ten-match winning run, conceding just two goals in the process. They are six points clear of Liverpool, Arsenal with Manchester City a further point behind.
The two sides were always going to view this as a ‘must-not-lose’ game; it’s now a ‘must-win’ for both clubs. A nine or ten point gap for either side signals the end of their title dreams. Mathematics may say otherwise but the reality is, it’s rare to overhaul a (near) double-digit gap to win the title without a significant advantage from games in hand.
This has all the hallmarks of a Premier League classic.
When Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad, the media confirmed the procession route for the Premier League trophy from Leicester to the Etihad Campus.
Six straight Premier League wins seemed to confirm that feeling and even a mini-blip of two draws and a defeat couldn’t derail them. Chelsea reeled them in, emphasising City’s fragility with a 3 – 1 win in Manchester. City’s capitulation last weekend was unwelcome as it was unexpected.
Without Sergio Aguero, they struggled to create panic in the defending champions’ defence. Claudio Ranieri’s men had conceded 25 goals already but City only did so twice. And it was the first time since August 2015 that they had hit four in the Premier League.
Whilst Aguero was the notable name, Fernandinho was the real hole City didn’t fill. They couldn’t handle Leicester’s speed and mobility. If they hit top form, Arsenal will cause them far more problems and that doesn’t bode well.
On the plus side, they haven’t failed to score at home in a league match since January and Arsenal are vulnerable at the moment. Can City put their own weaknesses behind them to exploit the Gunners?
Shkodran Mustafi pulled his hamstring against Stoke and Arsenal’s world has fallen apart. Good news is at hand with the return of Aaron Ramsey from injury although whether the Welsh international will start is another matter.
Arsène Wenger has yet to find a home in the Arsenal midfield for Ramsey and that is the root cause of Gooners’ disenchantment of Wales star at Euro 2016. He won’t usurp Mesut Özil from the starting line-up so Ramsey is shunted from a deep-lying role to the left or right flank and back again.
Who he would replace is another matter. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in good form while Theo Walcott provides a goal-threat that is otherwise missing from the Arsenal XI.
In the centre, Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin are exactly the combative pairing Arsenal have long missed. Both are prone to collecting bookings for their aggressive manner but as part of a 4 – 3 – 2 – 1, they and Ramsey could provide a strong foundation for victory.
Crucially for Wenger, he has some attractive options. Alexis is leading the line with some aplomb, supplied by Özil. The two are locked in contract talks with the club and the hope is that they don’t overshadow the season, or have a negative impact on their form.
If that happens, Arsenal may yet get that sinking feeling.
FORM (Last six Premier League games)
Manchester City - DWWLLW
Arsenal - DDWWWL
- Olivier Giroud has scored in each of his last four meetings with Manchester City.
- Pep Guardiola has never lost a home match against Arsène Wenger in any competition
- Arsenal are the only EPL side not to be losing a game at half-time this season (W7, D9)
- Manchester City haven’t kept a clean sheet in this fixture since they beat Arsenal 1 – 0 on 18th December 2011.
- Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott have scored 19 EPL goals this season, more than the total scored by Manchester City’s expected starting line-up.
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS [BEST PRICED ODDS]
HEAD TO HEAD
Last six meetings
08/05/2016 Premier League Manchester City 2 – 2 Arsenal
21/12/2015 Premier League Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester City
18/01/2015 Premier League Manchester City 0 – 2 Arsenal
13/09/2014 Premier League Arsenal 2 – 2 Manchester City
10/08/2014 FA Community Shield Manchester City 0 – 3 Arsenal
29/03/2014 Premier League Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester City
The wheels on the loser’s season will come off with defeat in this match. Two motivated sides with two managers whose idea of defending is to attack more often.
Both sides are missing key players through suspension or injury; the question is whose squad is deeper? City won in midweek but Watford are not of the same quality as Arsenal. Then again, City are a level above Everton who beat Arsenal in midweek.
It’s a crazy game to figure out but the biggest issue is Wenger’s poor record against Guardiola. In the same way Mourinho has an ‘Indian Sign’ over the Frenchman. And that may just sway things in City’s favour.
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Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account