Sunday 18th December 16.00
Well, well, well, what do we have here? A genuine humdinger between two gunslingers is what. For neutrals, this should be as close to a must-see as it’s possible to get, a rollercoaster of excitement with two teams who have scored 71 goals between them in the league so far. For the teams and those associated with them, this is a vital game if they harbour any hope of challenging for the league title. Should either side lose, they will find themselves at the wrong end of a nine point gap to Chelsea at the top.
Bad yet good
Manchester City’s woes of late have been well-documented. Their midweek win over Watford was their first at home since September and their first clean sheet in any competition since October. And yet for all the mishaps and poor results they have suffered recently, they are currently 4th in the league, just a single point behind Arsenal.
Good gone bad?
The visitors come into this game on the back of a defeat away to a previously-struggling Everton team. Worryingly, they lost as a result of being harried and bullied by supposedly lesser players. Results up to this point were indicating that they had at last found something of a steely spine so they will be hoping that the loss was an aberration rather than a return to the physically flaky days of the past.
Their kingdom for a Santi
It’s in their favour, then, that this City team are unlikely to put up the same type of resistance. As such, Arsenal will be given space to weave their pleasing patterns. So it is a great shame that Santi Cazorla will be absent through injury. It’s been noted in these pages before how much of an influence the Spanish player has from his deep-lying position, facilitating the forward whizzes further up the field. Although Arsenal’s central midfield is stronger than it has been for a long time, they cannot make up for his loss.
A midfield vacuum
Speaking of absentees, City have a long list of their own. Sergio Ageuro and Fernandinho are still serving their suspensions for shithousery. Although they will return soon, one player who won’t is Ilkay Gundogan. The German midfielder suffered an injury that will see him the rest of the season. Without him and Fernandinho, City’s midfield looks quite shorn. Fernando can certainly step in but if Guardiola decides on trying Pablo Zabaletta in free midfield role again, expect Arsenal to prosper.
Had this match been a week earlier than it is, form would certainly have suggested that Arsenal should be favourites. However, much like politics, a week is a long time in football and their respective results this week might indicate a reversal of fortunes. Arsenal’s cause is not helped by the continuing absence of Shkodran Mustafi and should Raheem Sterling start again, his runs at the heart of the defence could well be more productive than they might otherwise have been.
This is a genuinely hard match to call. That City have a madcap edge is plain to see. That Arsenal have the ability to crumble under pressure seems obvious, too. There’ll be chances either end so it may come down whichever side makes the most of their chances. Looked at like that, it seems as if Arsenal will be the team to win, even though our gut tells us they won’t. That’s what the bookie think as they make City favourites at a price of just better than evens. However, if it’s Arsenal you fancy here, BetVictor and others have them at a price of 5/2.