Arsenal vs Manchester City
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Referee: John Moss
TV: Sky Sports
Mikel Arteta welcomes his mentor Pep Guardiola to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, as he will be hoping to put an end to his invincibility in 2021. Having succumbed to a first-half Raheem Sterling goal earlier in the season, the former Sky Blues assistant manager will be looking to one-up the Catalan mastermind in a repeat of Arsenal’s 2-0 FA Cup performance last season, and avoid City doing the league double over the Gunners.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang scored a hat-trick in the performance over Leeds, turning around the Gunners’ lack of firepower in front of goal – they’d only scored once in their three prior to Leeds. Arteta’s philosophy has been clear from the start – building a strong foundation in defence, and moving slowly upwards. Gabriel Magalhaes has been key to establishing the fourth-best defence in the league this season, if their Gabonese captain can continue their form, Arsenal will give the visitors a serious run for their money.
City meanwhile, are on top of the world. Having beaten both Merseyside clubs away and Tottenham at home in a 10-day spell, they will be looking to extend their winning form to the Emirates stadium, and carry the momentum forward to the Champions League, where they face Borussia Monchengladbach. Sergio Aguero has been injured for virtually the entire campaign due to injury and COVID-19 isolation, and Kevin De Bruyne has also made a recovery and is in contention to face Arsenal, as he apparently always seems to make. While it would be hard for them to win their places back immediately, just the luxury of having them on the bench will do wonders for Pep as he navigates the perpetually packed fixture list in trying to advance across all competitions.
I expect to see pragmatism at the heart of Mikel Arteta’s approach, and for Arsenal to be disciplined in defence and methodical on the break; for City, it will likely be yet another day when they try to break down stubborn defences and simultaneously stay alert so as to not be hit on the counter. Either way, the quality of the two sides and the understanding of the two managers – who spent nearly three glorious seasons in the same dugout – turns this match into a very interesting narrative. May the best side emerge victorious!
Thomas Partey’s last scans threw up some dismal news for Arsenal fans who were hoping to have him back in time for Thursday. It would be a big surprise to see his name on the team sheet for the weekend.
Emile Smith-Rowe has been someone who has really stepped up in the creativity department, with some even dubbing him “Paul Scholes in the making”. He will be instrumental to Arsenal’s set up on Sunday, alongside Bukayoko Saka, who scored Arsenal’s equaliser seconds after Benfica took the lead through the spot in their Europa League encounter on Thursday.
In transfer news, Lyon announced that they had suffered a £96 million loss owing to COVID-19 and a lack of Champions League football this season, a key factor that could force their prized asset Houssem Aouar to make a shift to the Premier League in the summer. Arsenal were by far the most interested in his services before the start of the season, and the news would definitely have Arsenal’s board’s ears picked up.
Aymeric Laporte, a Twitter fan favourite, was forced to turn his account private after being the subject of abuse by some fans, following City’s 3-1 victory over Everton. Now, with John Stones in the form of his life, and Ruben Dias being Ruben Dias, it will be interesting to note how Guardiola rotates his players, particularly given the fixture congestion now. Laporte did turn his account back to public and seemed to shake it off.
Kevin De Bruyne featured off the bench in the victory at Merseyside, and I personally expect the same away to Arsenal. It would be meaningless to rush him back unnecessarily, especially given that Gundogan too, picked up an injury in the time the Belgian was absent. Thankfully for City, Gundogan – who’s now receiving player of season shouts after a mercurial uptick in goalscoring form – returned to training this week, but this game comes too soon for him.
There had been some rumours about Sergio Aguero’s future, owing to his fitness concerns in this season and the last. He has been an unused sub for City’s 2 most recent games, suggesting that he too, could be an option for Pep to call upon.
With Nathan Ake returning to (solitary) training as well, the injury front looks good for City.
Predicted Starting XIs
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Smith-Rowe, Odegaard, Saka; Aubameyang
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Foden; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling
Predicted Scoreline: Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City
I expect City’s form to continue, and Arsenal’s fatigued legs (owing to their clash with Benfica on just Thursday) to struggle to keep up with the City attackers as the game progresses.