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Back Manchester City to beat Arsenal and both teams to score. Clean sheets could be elusive on Wednesday, but we think Pep Guardiola’s will have the edge.
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It would be a slight exaggeration to say that the Premier League title race comes down to this, but Wednesday’s contest at the Etihad Stadium will go a long way to determining whether Manchester City or Arsenal lifts the trophy next month.
For a while the Gunners were the favorites with the best online sportsbooks. On the first day of this month, they thrashed Leeds United 4-1 to restore an eight-point advantage over Manchester City, who had played a game fewer.
Fast forward three weeks and Arsenal’s advantage is down to five points, while City now have two matches in hand. Mikel Arteta’s men have not suffered defeat since Pep Guardiola’s side won 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium in February. They head to Manchester on the back of a 10-game unbeaten run. But three consecutive draws may well prove costly.
The first of those, a 2-2 stalemate at Liverpool, was not a bad outcome, even though Arsenal threw away a two-goal lead. They did exactly the same thing a week later, drawing 2-2 with relegation-threatened West Ham United - a much more damaging result.
Arsenal were expected to return to winning ways against last-placed Southampton on Friday. But Arteta’s side went 2-0 and 3-1 down, and although they bounced back to level things up at 3-3, it was another disappointing 90 minutes for the would-be champions.
There is no doubt that Arsenal’s confidence has been dented. But their title hopes remain in their hands. A win on Wednesday would keep the north Londoners in pole position to triumph. Needless to say, a team that missed out on the top four last term would have happily accepted this position were they offered it at the start of the season.
Right now, though, Arsenal are up against it. A defeat on Wednesday would leave them with a mountain to climb.
Manchester City will be smelling blood right now.
Unlike this Arsenal team, who have been undone of late by a mix of overconfidence and loss of nerve, the reigning champions have been there and done it. City have won four of the last five Premier League titles, and are now strong favorites to finish atop the table this season.
They have rediscovered their best form at precisely the right moment. Of the last 27 points available in the Premier League, City have collected 25. Few would bet against them winning each of their remaining eight matches and ending the campaign on 94 points.
Guardiola’s side have their sights set on more than just the Premier League title. On Saturday they advanced to the FA Cup final thanks to a 3-0 victory over Sheffield United in the semis.
A few days prior, they booked their place in the last four of the Champions League, where the holders Real Madrid are waiting. A historic treble looks like a very real possibility.
City have greater squad depth and more trophy-winning experience than Arsenal. That is why - along with their overall quality and the genius of their manager - they are heavily fancied to claim the championship crown once again.
Arsenal will hope that fixture congestion aids their cause, particularly as Arteta’s men are out of every other competition. City, conversely, have a game every midweek until the end of the campaign. Even so, it would be a surprise if Guardiola’s side were not first past the post from here.
No team in the Premier League has a better home record than Manchester City. The champions have won 13 and drawn one of their 15 top-flight fixtures at the Etihad Stadium in 2022/23.
Brentford are the only visiting side to have triumphed there. City have scored a league-high 50 goals at home, which works out as an average of three per match. Put simply, they are a formidable force when playing in front of their own fans.
Yet Arsenal will draw confidence from their performances on the road this term. No side in the division has accumulated more points at opposition stadiums than the Gunners, who have taken 36 from a possible 48. No one has scored more goals (32) or won more games (11) on their travels.
However, going to the Eithad and coming away with all three points will probably be a bridge too far. Arsenal will have to withstand heavy pressure on Wednesday and they could come unstuck, especially as their self-belief has taken a hit over the last couple of weeks.
The Gunners should be able to find the back of the net, though: even in this recent downturn of form, they have scored 15 goals in their last five outings. Back a Manchester City win and both teams to score in this titanic tussle in the northwest of England.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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