The month of January can be make or break for sides fighting at the top of the table. Title-challenging Manchester City host Arsenal on Sunday afternoon and while the visitors’ ambitions have taken a bruising since the start of the season, they find themselves in a scrap to secure Champions League qualification. Every game from now until the end of the season will be vitally important for both these sides, with City locked in a close battle with Chelsea at the summit and Arsenal tussling for third or fourth place along with Southampton, Manchester United, Spurs and West Ham.
Manchester City win 73/100
Arsenal win 33/10
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The Citizens go into the game on the back of a blistering run of form that has lifted them right back into contention for the league, as well as guaranteeing progress into the Champions League knockout stage. A 2-2 draw at Loftus Road in early November left them eight points adrift of a then-rampant Chelsea and their title seemed to be fading away. But a nine-match winning run in league and cup has salvaged City’s season. They have faltered slightly in the last few weeks, relinquishing leads late on against Burnley and Everton, but nevertheless remain in a strong position as the run-in draws closer; just two points off top spot.
They have hardly even been hindered by a striker crisis which saw them have to play the (admittedly superbly versatile) James Milner in a false nine role for a considerable stretch of games. It is testament to the firepower of this City side that they did not wilt after losing Sergio Agüero, who had seven goals in five before his injury in early December.
Their recent run of form has been typical of a resilient side with individuals who can step up to the plate in the absence of a key player, but the heartbeat of City’s team has been ever-present throughout this period. David Silva, arguably the best player in the Premier League, has been immense all season and came into his own as the winter arrived. It is upon his narrow shoulders that a sizeable portion of City’s hopes this season rest.
As he has done in so many games already this campaign, Silva could well make the difference at the Etihad on Sunday. However, Arsenal have a player of their own in top form. Alexis Sánchez produced yet another wonderful display in last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Stoke, scoring two and setting up the other, and it is hard to describe quite how crucial he has been to the Gunners’ hopes this season. He’s bagged 18 goals since his summer switch from Barcelona and has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this term.
And yet despite possessing such a talented, effective forward as Sánchez in the form of his life, Arsenal lag far behind the top sides (13 points behind leaders Chelsea) in fifth place. They face a fight to secure Champions League football at the Emirates next season and, although history tells us they are likely to get their act together in time, these are frustrating times for Arsenal fans as we pass the halfway point of a season that promised so much more.
And their collective mood could still have taken a further turn for the worse by Monday after playing a City side who, despite the aforementioned recent slip-ups, have the bit firmly between their teeth. With close rivals Manchester United, Southampton, Spurs and West Ham all having winnable games this weekend, the table could make for grim reading for the Gunners should they fail to take a positive result from the Etihad. And it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them of late, with last season’s 6-3 defeat the fifth in their last seven trips to the stadium.
Their form in recent weeks has been patchy and for them to take anything back to north London, Arsenal will have to cut out the errors that have blighted their season. With a sizeable injury list which includes Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere (by contrast City have no injury concerns, though Yaya Touré is away at the Africa Cup of Nations), their task will not be made any easier. However, with Sánchez, as well as a rejuvenated Santi Cazorla, in their ranks you could never truly rule them out from causing a surprise.
Still, the smart money is most surely on Manchester City taking maximum points and keeping up the pressure on Chelsea. It was in January of last year that they really began to seize control of the league and put together a run that would ultimately win them the title. Sunday’s game will be a test of how likely they are to repeat that trick, and many will back them to pass with flying colours, but could it possibly be Arsenal who, for once, stand up to be counted and set the tone for the remainder of their season.
Betting Instinct tip – Manchester City to win and both teams to score is 2.65 with Intertops.eu
JACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter