SuperSport viewers on DStv can look forward to a classic Premier League rivalry, as Manchester City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium on the evening of Wednesday, April 26.
It has been billed as the game that decides the Premier League and many hope it will live up to its billing.
While Arsenal appeared to be well on course for a first Premier League title since the ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-04, a combination of stuttering form from the Gunners (who have drawn their last three matches against Liverpool, West Ham United and Southampton) and the relentlessness of the Citizens (eight wins and one draw from their last nine league matches) means this match could well decide whether the PL trophy heads to North London or remains in Manchester come Matchday 38 in late May.
Arsenal missed out on an opportunity to open a seven-point lead at the top of the table with their draw against Southampton last Friday night so the two games in hand for Man City means they control their own fate: beat Arsenal on Wednesday night and a perfect run through to the rest of the season guarantees a fifth PL title in the last six seasons for Pep Guardiola and his charges.
“I’m certain it is not the pressure. It is we misunderstood what was needed in that moment,” said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta this past weekend. “You have to have more composure to finish the game. When you drop your level so quickly the game is there for the opponent.”
Meanwhile, City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan believes a shock defeat to Southampton in the Carabao Cup back in January was the watershed moment that saw his team recapture their focus and determination.
“We had talks but everything that has happened was mainly on the pitch,” Gundogan said. “You feel like it clicks on the field. Maybe up to Southampton in the cup it didn’t feel like it was 100 percent clicking. Sometimes it just clicks, and you know this is the way to go. Now it feels a perfect fit for everybody.”
In head-to-head stats, Man City and Arsenal have met in 207 matches across all competitions since 1893. The Gunners have claimed 98 wins compared to 64 for the Citizens, while 45 games have been drawn.
The teams have met twice this season and Manchester City have won both matches: 1-0 in an FA Cup clash at the Etihad Stadium in January (courtesy of a rare goal from defender Nathan Ake) and 3-1 in a Premier League clash at the Emirates Stadium the following month (Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland netted for City, while Arsenal’s goal was a penalty from Bukayo Saka).
Manchester City – Erling Haaland
Effectively a ‘Death Star’ of a striker, Haaland has netted 32 Premier League goals in 28 appearances this season and the competition’s record of 34 is within his reach – he could even match or eclipse it in this match against Arsenal! And there’s more: that record of 34 is co-held by Andrew Cole and Alan Shearer from a time when the Premier League had 22 teams instead of the current 20, making each season a 42-game campaign instead of the current 38. Haaland could blitz the overall record with time to spare… in a shorter season!
Arsenal – Bukayo Saka
Guilty of a key penalty miss against West Ham United, Saka has been in this dark place before, famously missing a spot kick in a penalty shootout for England in the final of Euro 2020 against Italy. The exciting winger bounced back from that setback in incredible style and has the class to do so again. Saka’s pace, trickery, vision and intelligence have been at the forefront of Arsenal’s attacking play throughout the season and the team from North London will need him to do it once again if they are to upset the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola
The Spanish tactician took a swipe at his team earlier this season, questioning their hunger and determination to win another Premier League title. Thus far, his criticism has proved a masterstroke, with the Citizens responding in strong style to put together a brilliant run of form that has not only brought them right back into the title race, but also seen them secure places in the finals of both the FA Cup and the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. A mythical ‘treble’ of trophies is in sight for Guardiola and his charges, with this clash against Arsenal likely the first of several ‘crunch clashes’ as their potentially glorious season draws to a close.
Arsenal – Mikel Arteta
The job Arteta has done to turn Arsenal from a team which couldn’t crack the top four last season into one which could well win a first title in almost 20 years cannot be understated. The Gunners have played some of the best balanced and most tactically astute football anywhere in the world in 2022-23.
Yet it is not their class or quality which is now coming into question; instead, their mental strength is being pointed out as a potential Achilles heel. Arteta’s job for this clash will not only be about setting up his team tactically but bolstering their self-belief and confidence – finding the balance between tactics and emotion is the true test of a manager’s greatness.
Manchester City hold an advantage in terms of being the hosts, having the mental edge over Arsenal (with two wins over the Gunners already this season), and having momentum on their side. Yet taxing matches against Bayern Munich and Sheffield United (in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup respectively) in the days leading up to this clash could take their toll on the Citizens. Can a fresher Arsenal use hunger and energy to upset City in their own back yard? Or will the Manchester club’s greater squad depth and trophy-winning experience come into play?
We’d back the team in light blue to prevail on the night and in the Premier League title race overall, but the Gunners have punched above their weight again and again this season… Can they land one final knockout blow, or will they be the ones trying to get up from the canvas at the end of 90 minutes?
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