Apr 25, 2023 10:00 am
With five points and two games currently separating Arsenal and Manchester City in the Premier League title race, we take a closer look at how both sides can become champions.
The Premier League title race has provided Arsenal and Manchester City fans with a rollercoaster of emotions as opinions bounce back and forth over who the majority believe will come out victorious in this battle.
After the scenes at the Emirates on Friday evening, where Mikel Arteta’s side were unable to collect the full three points for the third consecutive game, the narrative has begun to shift in City’s favour, with the collective of the football populous believing that Arsenal’s chances of Premier League glory have transitioned from unlikely to bleak.
Arsenal are still in the comfort of the first position in the league, with City needing to beat Arsenal and Fulham to capitalise on the Gunners’ recent dip in form.
But Pep Guardiola has been here and done this many times before, something that cannot be said for his apprentice in the Arsenal dugout.
Arteta served time under Guardiola as his assistant manager at Manchester City before taking the Arsenal job.
City find themselves in blazing form and are purring on all remaining fronts, ironically gunning down the North London outfit and slowly but surely closing the gap.
Despite dropping six points in their last three matches, Arsenal’s dream of a first Premier League title since the Arsene Wenger era still lies within their own palms.
Heading to the Etihad on Wednesday, the away side have everything to play for; a win would take them eight points clear of City, negating the two additional games in hand that they have on them.
However, a major stumbling block for Arsenal could be the absence of William Saliba in central defence, as without the Frenchman in the backline, they have conceded nine goals in their last five matches, not keeping a single clean sheet since Rob Holding entered the starting lineup.
William Saliba has been a vital cog in Arsenal’s rigid defense this season.
The 22-year-old’s ability to distribute the ball into more progressive areas has been missed since he sustained a lower back injury against Sporting Lisbon, with Holding completing 10.7 fewer passes per 90 minutes and 3.1 final third passes per 90 in comparison to Saliba’s 5.7.
On a more positive note, many believe that the destination of the league title has become a formality due to Arsenal’s recent draw spree, giving them the opportunity to view this fixture through the prism of challengers with nothing to lose.
If Arteta can install the right mindset in his squad for this game, a frantic start could catch the reigning champions off guard early and present them with some questions of their own to be answered.
To dethrone a champion, you must take their crown yourself, and that is what Arsenal must do here. Revel in the opportunity, show no fear, and take the game to a side that thrives on control.
Liverpool are a prime example of a high-press side that has given Guardiola’s side an arduous time in head-to-head matches over previous seasons, denying City from getting into an early groove and commanding possession, punishing them in wide areas with the pace, trickery, and clinical finishing that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane provide.
Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli possess similar qualities on Arsenal’s flanks and have been in sensational form this season, with the duo providing 44 goal contributions in the Premier League.
All-in-all, this is a must-win fixture for Mikel Arteta and his men; three points at the Etihad is the only way to take the league title race back into their hands.
Meanwhile, Manchester City have been in frightening form since losing to Tottenham Hotspur in early February, going unbeaten in their last 16 matches in all competitions, winning 13 and drawing three.
Pep Guardiola’s side have seemingly clicked into a different gear as of late, as exemplified by the margin of their victories in their Champions League quest, dismantling RB Leipzig 8-1 across two legs in the round-of-16 and defeating German champions Bayern Munich 4-1 to book their place in the semi-finals.
Defensive stability has been the Catalans biggest headache this season, struggling to attain clean sheets and looking vulnerable in transitions earlier this season.
But as he always does, after tinkering with tactics, Pep has landed on a system that has transcended the way that his side can control the game, with John Stones drifting into a double pivot with Rodri in possession, then slotting into the back four out of possession.
This tactical tweak allows City to use Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji as fullbacks, occupying the spaces on either side of Ruben Dias and being challenged with stopping counterattacks down their respective sides.
There is also the small factor of Erling Haaland that has just kept on scoring and scoring, and scoring again, which is the X factor that Arsenal do not have in their ranks.
The Norweigan is currently sitting level with Mohamed Salah’s record for most goals in a Premier League season (32) and has surpassed the most goals scored by a Premier League player in all competitions (48).
However, a thigh injury to Ake in the second leg of the Bayern Munich tie may present Arsenal with an opportunity to exploit City’s backline, as Aymeric Laporte could be exposed against Bukayo Saka’s pace and trickery in transition.
A loss at any point in the remainder of the season could be catastrophic to Manchester City’s treble hopes, as they are currently favourites to win the Champions League, FA Cup, and Premier League.
Many believe that City will go unbeaten for the remainder of the season, but with such a busy schedule and competing on three fronts, a slip-up at some point is surely inevitable.
Manchester City’s job on Wednesday is quite simple: win at home against Arsenal, and the league title run-in is in their hands.
Admittedly, a draw is more favourable for the home side, but with two ties against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final sandwiched in the middle of Everton away and three tough matches against Chelsea, Brighton, and Brentford to finish the season, a draw may not be as fatal for Arsenal as many may think.
Who will be crowned champions?
Speaking in probable terms, Manchester City are currently the most likely side to come out on top in the run-in, but Arsenal are by no means down and out in this title challenge.
Pep Guardiola is the more experienced of the two coaches, but Arteta did overcome Guardiola’s side in the 2019-20 FA Cup semi-final before going on to win the final.
Even a draw at the Etihad keeps them alive, City will drop points somewhere down the line; it is just a matter of whether Arsenal can restore the form that brought them to this position in the season or if the pressure has well and truly gotten to them.
For City, it is to use the home advantage in the head-to-head match and then keep on winning games, as they are in a groove at the moment. Pep has figured out his best eleven for the last stretch of the season; the more they win, the more Arsenal will lose confidence.
Arsenal’s Remaining Fixture List
Manchester City (A) – Wed 26 April
Chelsea (H) – Tue 2 May
Newcastle United (A) – Sun 7 May
Brighton & Hove Albion (H) – Sun 14 May
Nottingham Forest (A) – Sat 20 May
Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) – Sun 28 May
Manchester City’s Remaining Fixture List
Arsenal (H) – Wed 26 April
Fulham (A) – Sun 30 April
West Ham United (H) – Wed 3 May
Leeds United (H) – Sat 6 May
Real Madrid (A) – Tue 9 May [Champions League]
Everton (A) – Sun 14 May
Real Madrid (H) – Wed 17 May [Champions League]
Chelsea (H) – Sun 21 May
Brighton & Hove Albion (A) – Wed 24 May
Brentford (A) – Sun 28 May
Manchester United (N) – Sat 3 June [FA Cup]