Man City and Arsenal gear up for potentially title-deciding tie

Man City and Arsenal gear up for potentially title-deciding tie
Erling Haaland of Manchester City and John Egan of Sheffield United in action during their FA Cup semifinal in London on 22 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Tolga Akmen)

As the English Premier League nears its climax, Arsenal’s position at the summit is in jeopardy. Recent results have not been kind to Mikel Arteta’s team.

Arsenal and Manchester City are set to clash in what may prove to be a pivotal contest in the riveting race for the English Premier League title this season. 

As the end of the season approaches, the teams are separated by just five points in the two-horse race to be crowned English champions.   

The two teams will battle each other in City’s backyard – the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. The duel will be the third this year between them. Pep Guardiola’s men won both of the previous encounters.

In February, they beat their fellow title hopefuls 3-1 in London. A month before that they edged them 1-0 to dump the Gunners out of the FA Cup. So, psychologically, it is very much advantage to the Citizens. 

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli misses an opportunity to take a shot during an English Premier League match against Southampton at Emirates Stadium in London on 21 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall)

Mikel Arteta’s team has hardly done itself any favours heading into the crunch clash. A string of draws of late — three on the trot — have seen second-placed City narrow the gap between themselves and the log-leading Londoners to just five points. Though Arsenal have played two more games than the chasers.

While Arteta’s young side is stumbling and faltering with the finish line in full view, the relentless and battle-hardened Citizens are beginning to gain momentum. They won all six of their most recent league matches.

It is not far-fetched to imagine Guardiola’s men managing to win all their remaining games. After all, the club jointly holds the record for the most Premier League games won in a row. They managed 18 on the trot in 2017.

Liverpool matched that streak in their league-winning 2019/20 campaign. 

According to Arsenal’s Arteta, even if his side manages to lose against City in the crucial contest (which will narrow the gap between them to just two points), the Manchester outfit’s games in hand are not guaranteed points.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Arsenal begin to falter as Manchester City’s unrelenting chase for another Premier League title gathers pace

“[The game against City] is not a final because there are still six games to go,” Arteta said. “We are down, but the players are more willing than anybody to win it. You can see that spirit in the dressing room. But it is clear we have to do better defensively.”

In two of their three most recent points-dropping draws, the Gunners have shown defensive fragility as they threw away a two-goal cushion twice. Such tardy defending will be heavily punished by Erling Haaland and company in Manchester. 

Guardiola — who mentored Arteta as the duo won a couple of Premier League titles together, before the latter jumped ship to join Arsenal — is not heading into the clash intoxicated by arrogance. In spite of the sides’ contrasting fortunes of late.

“Wednesday is a final against a team that has been the best team in England so far and is five points ahead of us,” the Spaniard said. “It’s a massive, important game for us… We know winning will give us a step to putting it completely in our hands.”

Young Gunners

City’s team is littered with experienced campaigners who have been instrumental in the team’s dominant domestic run under Guardiola in past seasons. The likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson and İlkay Gündoğan are not new to slugging it out for the league title. 

Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City celebrates with teammate Erling Haaland after scoring against Sheffield United in London on 22 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Tolga Akmen)

Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus in action against Southampton at Emirates Stadium in London on 21 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall)

Arsenal, on the other hand, have the youngest squad in the Premier League, and players not accustomed to these dizzying heights. If they somehow manage to hold off City’s stampeding charge, they would break Chelsea’s record of the youngest team to win the English league crown.

The Blues were crowned English champions in the 2004/5 season with a starting 11 that averaged 25 years. Their London neighbours are on an average age of 24 years this season. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bloodbath as a dozen English Premier League managers fall to the axe

The likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are younger than 22. Even vital cogs such as Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who both know all about winning the league, having signed from City, are only 26. Skipper Martin Ødegaard is 24, as is shot-stopper Aaron Ramsdale.

Will their youthfulness — including that of 41-year-old manager Arteta — prove to be the team’s Achilles heel as they search for their first league trophy triumph in almost two decades? There are just a few games to find out. DM


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