Arsenal v Manchester City | Monday 21 December | Emirates Stadium | 22:00
The biggest matchup of the English Premier League Gameweek 17 sees Arsenal take on Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium in what could be a crucial moment in the title race. The Gunners are undefeated in their last four meetings against the Citizens with two wins including a 3-0 Community Shield triumph last year.
Their last encounter saw Arsenal claim a 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium, while the corresponding fixture ended in a 2-2 draw last season. There’s always fireworks when these two teams meet and Monday night should be no different.
To Win Match
Man City 18/10
Arsenal secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over struggling Aston Villa last weekend which saw them move – temporarily at least – to the top of the Premier League table. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring from the penalty spot early on with his 14th goal of the season, before Aaron Ramsey coolly finished a lovely counter-attacking move.
The Gunners now sit one point clear of Manchester City and will be hoping to capitalize on home advantage. Since their shocking 2-0 defeat at home to West Ham on the opening day of the season, they are yet to lose at the Emirates Stadium with four wins from six games including notable victories over Manchester United and Everton. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions with four wins including three on the spin.
Manager Arsene Wenger does have some major injury concerns ahead of the match with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Danny Welbeck and Mikel Arteta ruled out, while Alexis Sanchez faces a late fitness test to be available. Sanchez's absence would be a massive blow for Arsenal, as he is one of the north London outfit's most dangerous attacking threats. He has netted six goals in 12 Premier League starts and Wenger will be hoping he recovers in time for the clash.
While Arsenal have bags of talent in their attacking ranks, Sanchez is a player who really makes the Gunners tick. Wenger has plenty of alternative options in the likes of Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott. Both can provide a threat on the wing and pester City’s fullbacks with excessive pace, quick-feet, brilliant creativity and an eye for goal.
Mesut Ozil will be looking to manipulate the City defence and provide a constant attacking threat with his incredible vision and ability to pick a pass. Ozil’s technical brilliance allows him to do wonders with the ball at his feet, not only find space but also create the space out of nowhere. That is a characteristic that makes him stand out in a group of attacking midfielders.
The summer was dominated by talk of Olivier Giroud not being good enough to lead a Premier League title challenge, and even Wenger appeared to agree when he dropped the Frenchman in favour of Walcott. But once again Giroud continues to dispel the critics, and after scoring the opening penalty in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa last Sunday, he became the third quickest Arsenal striker to score 50 Premier League goals for the club behind Thierry Henry and Ian Wright. Giroud has been in top form having scored six goals in his last six games.
Manchester City come into this clash off a 2-1 victory over Swansea at the Etihad Stadium. The Citizens took the lead through Wilfried Bony's header but were unable to kill off the game. City looked in danger of throwing away two points when Bafetimbi Gomis snatched a 90th-minute equaliser, but Yaya Toure's fortuitously deflected shot in the 92nd minute spared their blushes—City striker Kelechi Iheanacho diverted the Ivorian's shot into the net.
Winning in such a fashion against resilient opposition is one of the hallmarks of champions—to grind out wins where others would fail. However, there remains a big question mark over City's ability to defend without captain Vincent Kompany. In eight Premier League matches during the campaign with Kompany playing at centre-back, the Sky Blues have kept seven clean sheets. In eight matches without him, City have kept none. The concerns over Eliaquim Mangala are growing by the game. His natural attributes are clear—he’s an archetypal centre-half in stature—but his concentration and reading of the game continue to undo any positives his physicality offers. His defending for Gomis’ goal was shocking and not what is expected of a top-level centre-half.
Nicolas Otamendi looked shaky alongside him, although he’s shown promise since his emergence as a City regular, and Pellegrini will be hoping to have his captain available for the match. City’s current performances suggest winning the title will be much more arduous than it should be.
Injuries are a factor in their disjointedness, but they should be playing far better than they are. Pellegrini’s side are winless in their last two away matches in the Premier League with two defeats against Tottenham (4-1) and Stoke City (2-0).
Sergio Aguero is expected to return for the clash which will come as a massive boost. Last season's Premier League top scorer will be a menace to Wenger’s side and he will be looking to fire his team to victory. There are many dangerous players and huge scoring threats in this City side with the likes of Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, who could cause all sorts of problems for Arsenal’s defence.
Manchester City have been struggling of late and their away form will be a major concern for Pellegrini. Arsenal are in top form and have won three on the spin in all competitions. Their recent record against City is impressive and with home advantage, I’m backing the Gunners to win at 27/20.