The second instalment of the return of Premier League football this week brings us an intriguing looking clash (on paper at least) as Manchester City welcome Arsenal to and even more empty than usual Etihad.
While City effectively have nothing left to play for in the league, Arsenal will be desperate to get on some sort of run as the season plays out to keep alive their slim hopes of securing a top four/ five spot that would guarantee them Champions League football next season (should City’s appeal against their ban not be successful).
Arsenal currently find themselves languishing down in ninth, but are ‘only’ eight points adrift of Chelsea in 4th and five adrift of Manchester United in 5th, with this being their game in hand. If they could manage to somehow nick a result here and build some confidence, their immediate run of fixtures after presents an ideal opportunity to get on that run and put pressure on those above them (they face Brighton, Southampton and then Norwich).
Arsenal’s main issue this season has been their inability to kill games off and drawing far too often – they’ve actually lost fewer than Man City – but before the break they were beginning to show signs of promise. They have won three on the bounce in the league, and are unbeaten in nine.
City likely appreciated the break more than most, having played so many games and their most recent result being a confidence-shattering 2-0 defeat at the hands of neighbours United. They have lost an unprecedented seven games in the league this term – 25% of their total played. To hammer home that stat, they lost fewer games than that in the two seasons previous COMBINED.
They’ve had some defensive crises, losing the excellent Aymeric Laporte for 21 of their 28 games, which shows the huge importance and influence top-level centre-backs have on a team’s fortunes. Of the seven league games he did feature in, City won six and drew one, keeping five clean sheets in the process, highlighting how important he is to this team. His return is huge as City can revert to their more traditional line-up and style of play.
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As with the return of any football after a break, it’s not an easy task to identify trends and form as it’s effectively like starting all over again. One thing I’m particularly keen on is Man City’s approach here behind closed doors. I get the impression it will feel like a training exercise for them for the most part, and that will make them extremely dangerous.
I don’t care what anyone (ahem, Liverpool fans) says, Man City are still the best team in the league, certainly on paper. I think the announcement of the Champions League format, coupled with how and where it will play out, will really play into Man City’s hands too, and they will be looking to use these league games as an opportunity to fine-tune their stars when it comes around in a couple of months time. The competition for places will be strong too, so there will be a lot of players in that City squad determined to prove themselves in the coming weeks, notably Leroy Sane.
With the above in mind, I’ll throw my hat at the below as punts that stand out most to me.
As mentioned above, I feel pretty strongly about City’s approach here and how they’ll treat the game. They average almost seven shots on target per game home and away this season and will not be shy about having a go against a suspect at best Arsenal defence. City have been pretty leaky in terms of shots allowed per game too, and with the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe, Ozil and Ceballos all likely to feature, along with Aguero, Sterling, Mahrez (who loves a shot on target) and De Bruyne, you will certainly get a run for your money with this at a decent price.
Assuming they both start, this is a no brainer. These two are arguably the best strikers in the Premier League and lie 1st and 3rd respectively on the all-time goals-per-minute ratio in the Premier League. They are both still vying for top goalscorer in the division and will be desperate to close the gap on Vardy in a game that should have goals, then more goals, and then probably more goals. Both should be on penalties too, though City’s penalty taker could be anyone these days…
A selection that doesn’t require any stats, just Man City to be as dominant as I’d expect. While I think the game matters more to Arsenal in terms of significance in the table, this can come with added pressure, and I’m actually just really looking forward to seeing how City play in this environment (I’d pay to just go and watch them train to be honest). I think they could potentially tear Arsenal apart if they really want to, and that’s why I wouldn’t put anyone off backing this selection.