Match Preview: Man City vs Arsenal – Prediction & Team News
The race for the top four will take another pivotal turn on Sunday as Arsenal host Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
The hosts have slipped down to sixth place courtesy of a poor run of form before the international break, while Man City sit seven points better off in third.
When all is said and done with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career, there will be plenty of highlights to look back on.
The doubles of 1998 and 2002, the Invincibles of 2004 and even the Champions League final of 2006, albeit an unsuccessful one, provided a golden age for the Gunners that established them as one of the leading teams both in England and abroad.
Right now, though, those days will feel almost as far away as Herbert Chapman’s heyday in the mid-1930s, when he steered Arsenal to three consecutive league titles.
This is surely the lowest point yet of Wenger’s long reign. Pressure on him to stand down at the end of the season has reached unprecedented levels, and it seems for the first time as if the majority of the Arsenal fans are now in the ‘Wenger Out’ camp.
The Gunners have suffered four defeats in their last five Premier League games – their worst ever run of form under Wenger – and in the meantime they were also humiliated on the European stage by a 10-2 aggregate loss at the hands of Bayern Munich.
Such form has seen them slump to sixth in the table – only the second time in Premier League history that they have been outside the top five in April – and just as damagingly has created a civil war of sorts amongst supporters.
Events on the field during the 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion before the international break were bad enough without two banners being flown over The Hawthorns – one pleading with Wenger to leave and another demanding more respect for the Frenchman.
It is a club in disarray both on the pitch and in the stands, and as if that wasn’t enough there is the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the futures of some key figures.
Wenger, of course, heads that list, and the players can surely not be benefitting from the Frenchman’s vague and ambiguous updates on his position. There have been contrasting reports for some time, and even Wenger himself has been contradictory having now revealed that his future is not sorted after previously declaring that he had made a decision.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil headline the bill of players approaching the final year of their contracts, but between now and the end of next season as many as 10 others – including the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Per Mertesacker – are also due to see their deals expire.
If Wenger stays this summer then many of those players may also stay, but the fans will not be happy. If he leaves then his successor will have a major rebuilding job on his hands. It is a catch-22 situation for the club.
It goes to show the scale of Arsenal’s problems that it has taken this long to even mention that they actually have a very difficult game this weekend too. Defeat on Sunday could leave them nine points adrift of the Champions League places or, in a best-case scenario, six points off the pace but down in seventh.
There are plenty who will be backing the Gunners to lose again too – they have only taken five points from a possible 24 in matches against teams currently in the top seven this season and are in danger of falling to three consecutive league defeats for the first time since January 2012.
Of course, victory over a direct rival would help to change the mood around the club significantly, and Arsenal do boast a formidable home record in recent weeks having lost just one of their last 12 league games in front of their own fans, including six wins from their last seven.
Defeat, though, would plunge the Gunners further into crisis and the demands for Wenger to step down – or at the very least to clarify his position – will only grow louder.
Recent form: WLLWLL
Recent form (all competitions): LWLLWL
It may not be to the same extent as Arsenal’s current troubles, but Pep Guardiola has also found himself under scrutiny like never before at times this season.
In many ways their story is similar to that of the Gunners – a disappointing early exit from the Champions League and underachievement on the domestic front leading to questions over whether the manager’s powers are waning.
City, however, come into this weekend’s match in much better shape than their hosts and, while Guardiola has said for some time that Chelsea are out of reach, second place is still very much in their sights with a two-point gap separating them from Tottenham Hotspur.
Back-to-back draws – the last of which was a breathless and frantic stalemate with Liverpool before the international break – have harmed their chances, though, and the fixture list does not make particularly good reading over the closing stages of the campaign.
After Sunday’s trip to the Emirates Stadium they will return to London on Wednesday to face the runaway league leaders Chelsea, while they must also take on Manchester United before the season is over – not forgetting their continued participation in the FA Cup.
City have only lost one of their last 13 matches across all competitions, though, while in the Premier League they are on a seven-match unbeaten streak – their longest run under Guardiola.
The Citizens are also in fine form on their travels having won each of their last three away league games without conceding a goal. Only once before have they ever gone on a four-match streak of that kind, and that was in Division Two way back in 1903.
Indeed, only Chelsea can boast a better away record in the Premier League this season, with City having won 10 of their 14 outings on the road, scoring a joint league-high 30 goals in the process.
Guardiola has warned that a wounded Arsenal will be an even tougher test than an in-form Arsenal, though, and City must be wary of a backlash if they are to complete their first league double over the Gunners since 1975-76.
Recent form: WWWWDD
Recent form (all competitions): WWDWLD
Arsenal could finally welcome Ozil back into the starting XI following a six-week spell on the sidelines.
However, the Gunners do have injury concerns elsewhere, with Petr Cech ruled out due to a calf injury and Lucas Perez unavailable because of a thigh problem.
Cazorla’s ongoing Achilles troubles will keep him out until next season, but Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny are expected to be available despite recent knocks.
The ankle injury sustained by Sanchez in the defeat to West Brom was not as serious as first feared, meaning that the Chilean will be fit to start once again.
City trio Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Pablo Zabaleta all suffered injury scares during the international break but have recovered in time for the weekend and should be available for selection.
Bacary Sagna has also overcome a groin strain, leaving long-term absentees Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus as Guardiola’s only injury concerns.
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud
Man City possible starting lineup:
Caballero; Fernandinho, Stones, Otamendi, Clichy; Sterling, De Bruyne, Toure, Silva, Sane; Aguero
Head To Head
Manchester City have won just one of their last seven meetings with Arsenal in all competitions (D3 L3), although that did come in the reverse fixture when goals from Leroy Sane and Sterling cancelled out Theo Walcott’s opener.
The corresponding match last term ended in a 2-1 win in Arsenal’s favour, with Walcott again on the scoresheet, and the Gunners have only lost one of their previous 19 Premier League home games against City, winning 12.
However, Wenger has only won two of his previous nine meetings with Guardiola and another victory for the Spaniard would see City do the double over Arsenal for the first time in more than 40 years.
We say: Arsenal 1-2 Man City
Arsenal seemed to lack fight and desire when they came up against West Brom before the international break, and a similar performance this weekend will only see Man City pour more misery on their hosts. Wenger’s situation does seem to be affecting his players and the visit of an in-form Man City side is not what they need right now.