Manchester City vs Arsenal preview: Two title rivals in need of making up ground

Manchester City vs Arsenal preview: Two title rivals in need of making up ground

Man City take on Arsenal on Sunday, in one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season.

Matt Dawson

If you cast your mind back to the early weeks of the season, many were building this game up to be one of the biggest games of the season, especially considering form. Indeed it still is a big game, but Manchester City have fallen off the pace slightly despite Pep Guardiola's appointment.

As for Arsenal, their defeat in midweek has put even more focus on this game, with the necessity to get three points out of this match being huge for both teams. 

Chelsea at the moment appear title favourites, a team the Gunners beat 3-0 earlier in the season. Arsene Wenger's men look like they now have more bottle in the bigger games, but going to the Etihad in a busy festive period will be massive test for the North London side. It is absolutely crucial for either side to win then, if they are to start making up the ground on Antonio Conte's side. 

Arsenal seeking improvement

The Gunners' form this season has been exceptional. There has been a renewed steel about this team so far in 2016/17, they've found the will to grind out a performance when they've needed it most, and they've started looking more assured against the best teams in the League.

However on Tuesday night, when they slipped to just their second league defeat of the season against Everton, it was a case of same old Arsenal. Many supporters have been feeling that this season has the potential to be different, but in midweek it displayed all the characteristics of why they won't win the Premier League title.

Winning in the week would have been huge, and as it happens, a defeat to Man City this weekend could leave them seriously off the pace just as they looked as though they could sustain a challenge.

Therefore a mass improvement will be needed. Perhaps we could expect to see a few changes. Is this the week Olivier Giroud finally gets a start? Only time will tell. Alexis Sanchez has maintained his record of contributing to a goal in each of his last 27 Premier League games. A phenomenal statistic, and against a City defence that has been hugely lacking this season he could have a field day. 

It should however, be a lot harder than that. Mesut Ozil was extremely poor in the defeat to Everton; his marking for the eventual winner was non-existent but the German could yet have a pivotal role to play on Sunday if his side are to win.

Ozil's national colleague Shkodran Mustafi will again miss the game through the injury he sustained last weekend against Stoke, and without him Arsenal will have to be a lot better. It is no coincidence that Arsenal's three defeats across all competitions this season have come when he hasn't been playing. Gabriel showed signs of form at right-back, but when moved centrally his ability remains questionable. 

There will be no Sergio Aguero for Man City but even so, they pose a big threat going forward. Wenger will be hoping that his side stays firm in a battle with Guardiola that hasn't always favoured the Frenchman. 

City hoping to build momentum

Manchester City's  crushing defeat at Leicester a week ago was a massive dent, but against Watford in the week they bounced back. The problem for them however is not goals, despite missing Aguero through suspension, but it is at the back where the issue is found.

Against an Arsenal side who are scoring goals at will, despite a blip at Goodison Park, they could come under fire again even if they are at home. Guardiola has a big dilemma on his hands with what to do with his defence. It's clear his system isn't working how it should be, but there is not a lot he can do when his defence are as poor as they have been. 

City must use the win over Watford in the week as a springboard for this festive period though. A win over Arsenal who are still in quite good form would be massive for their title credentials. Likewise for the Gunners if they were to win. 

This game has the potential to be one of those dull 0-0 matches between the bigger sides, but if you consider that both team's are struggling to keep clean-sheets at the moment, then you can expect goals. That's probably put the proverbial curse on things, but we shall soon see come Sunday afternoon how both team's fare. 

Team news

As said, Arsenal are still without Mustafi who will be out for the next couple of weeks. His miss will obviously be big. Santi Cazorla still remains out so everyone that was in the squad for the Everton trip on Tuesday should be in the team again. Whether any changes will be made though remains to be seen. Alex Iwobi has scored two in three and was unlucky not to get one at Everton so he could be preferred over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Aaron Ramsey is still out, but he should be back next week. As for Danny Welbeck he should be returning to full training in the next seven days, before potentially making his full return either side of the New Year period. 

Aguero is of course out suspended and therefore Guardiola could either start with Kalechi Iheanacho or could opt for playing Kevin de Bruyne in a false nine position. 

Man City will have a hole to fill in midfield with the news that Ilkay Gundogan faces cruciate knee ligament surgery whilst Fernandinho will miss the game through the last of his three match suspension. Vincent Kompany is still not fit, and Fabian Delph remains a long term absentee. 

Previous meetings

Arsenal haven't actually lost to Manchester City since that devastating 6-3 defeat in December 2013 and since then they have responded pretty well in this fixture. Wenger's players have won three out of the six meetings since, one of which was a Community Shield victory in 2014. The other three games between the two sides have been draws.

The most recent competitive meeting was back in May, when a thrilling game ended 2-2 at the Etihad. Twice the hosts took the lead through Aguero and then de Bruyne, but Giroud and Sanchez were on hand with equalisers as the points were shared. City and Arsenal also met in a pre-season friendly in August when the Gunners won 3-2 in Sweden thanks to goals from Theo WalcottChuba Akpom and Iwobi.

It is difficult to pick a favourite for this match however, with either side having the capability to come out with the win. The result isn't a certainty, but what is for certain, is that it should be a hugely intriguing game.