Manchester City vs Arsenal at the Etihad, the game that has always loomed around the corner on the fixture list is almost upon us, the game that feels it could be pivotal in the title race is nearly here, we’ll have a look at the fixture and what looms as a decisive moment one way or the other in this season’s title race.
Manchester City come into this game off the back of a resounding 3 nil FA Cup Semi Final win on the back of a Riyad Mahrez hat trick over Sheffield United.
The performance was a professional one from City, and importantly some rest was given to key players like Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, John Stones.
Erling Haaland got the final 25 minutes of the game off so the City squad will be as fresh as it can be for the crunch clash, especially with such a congested fixture upcoming to finish the season.
One area of concern is Nathan Ake’s fitness with Ake coming off in the away leg of the Champions League Quarter Final against Bayern Munich with a hamstring injury.
Nathan Ake has been superb this season, and would be a contender for City’s player of the season if not for Erling Haaland’s record breaking season and Rodri’s outstanding form this season.
Also in Manchester City’s two wins over Arsenal in the FA Cup tie and City’s win at the Emirates Ake was outstanding at left back in both games, and did a superb job on Arsenal danger man Bukayo Saka.
If Ake does miss here his loss will be felt, but Aymeric Laporte has been waiting for a opportunity and did well in his minutes against Bayern and again against Sheffield United on the weekend.
Another selection question will be who will Pep Guardiola play on the right wing. I feel the rest of City’s line up is self explanatory on recent form, but there’s a case here for either Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez to start on the right given the form Mahrez comes into the game off the back of his weekend hat trick.
Bernardo brings his work rate, wizardry, pressing and all round energy up against former City Olexander Zinchenko on Arsenal’s left, all traits that have been invaluable to City of late.
While Riyad Mahrez brings his goal threat, dribbling ability and ability to pin Zinchenko back on Arsenal’s left hand side which can have a affect on Arsenal’s build up further up the field with Zinchenko being crucial to Arsenal’s ability to retain possession.
Whoever gets the nod from Pep Guardiola will be up for the job, with this City squad in peak form and up for any big occasion on current form.
For Arsenal they come into the game on the back of three successive draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton.
In the Liverpool and West Ham games, Arsenal inexplicably threw away two goal leads on both occasions, and come into this game on the back of a 3 all draw with the bottom of the table Southampton.
Whilst Arsenal showed tremendous fight to come from 3-1 down at home to Southampton to secure a draw late on, questions remain if Arsenal are faltering under pressure from the relentless Manchester City machine lead by Pep Guardiola.
Another question for Arsenal is at the back where Arsenal have conceded 7 goals in their past 3 games. Not inspiring defensive form when coming to the Etihad to face a rampant and in form Erling Haaland and co who have been banging goals in for fun of late.
At the back the loss of William Saliba for Arsenal has been massive, and no doubt a factor in Arsenal’s recent defensive frailties. Eyes will be on Arsenal’s defence and if City can get at them.
Of course Arsenal have weapons, and possess a threat of their own. It would be criminal not to acknowledge that here. No team resides on top of the table as long as they have without weapons of their own.
For me the threat of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka on the wings must be contained by City. Both the Arsenal wide men have been amongst the goals this season to their credit, and their pace will be a concern for City’s defence.
City though did a good job containing a similar threat posed by Bayern Munich in both legs of the Champions League Quarter Final so a similar job is required here.
Also another former City man in Gabriel Jesus and his pressing and work rate, and ability to do the special will be another threat worth respecting and also Arsenal skipper Martin Odegaard in midfield.
Odegaard has been one of the players of the season in the Premier League and his skill and threat must be respected in this one.
All in all a massive occasion and enthralling contest awaits. The size of this fixture and the context of it for this season is obvious and a fantastic occasion awaits.
Pep Guardiola has issued his obligatory rallying cry to the City faithful, so expect a cracking atmosphere for this one, and the City fans will be well up for it.
It does echo a similar clash in the context of the 2018/19 title winning campaign for City that time a home clash with Liverpool where City ran out 2-1 winners over Liverpool on the night, and that result became crucial in the title run in that season. A similar result would be welcomed here.
Bring on kick off on Wednesday night, another big game for City awaits as they all are at this point of the season.