The apprentice welcomes his former master to the Emirates Stadium for a Premier League title showdown as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal play host to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City for a mouthwatering top-of-the-table contest on Wednesday.
The Gunners are seeking to avoid a third successive league game without a victory, while the Citizens could knock the North Londoners off their perch at the summit should they claim maximum points in the capital.
While hopes of lifting their first Premier League title for nearly two decades remain firmly in sight, Arsenal have experienced somewhat of a blip from their usual high standards in recent weeks, with a slender 1-0 defeat at Everton followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Brentford on Saturday.
It took only four minutes for Leandro Trossard to score his first Gunners goal after coming off the bench just after the hour mark, but Arteta’s side were victims of a ‘significant error’ from VAR which failed to spot either Ethan Pinnock or Christian Norgaard in offside positions, and the latter ultimately teed up Ivan Toney for a 74th-minute equaliser.
Arsenal have sat at the Premier League summit since November, but their once eight-point lead has now been cut to just three after dropping points in three of their last five games, and their unbeaten home run will be put to the test by the reigning champions on Wednesday.
Indeed, the Gunners – who lost 1-0 away at Man City in the FA Cup fourth round last month – have failed to win each of their last 13 Premier League meetings with the Citizens and have lost all of their last 10 – their longest losing run against an opponent in their top-flight history.
Defeat against Guardiola and co would not be a complete disaster for Arsenal and their title hopes with 16 league matches still to follow including a game in hand on their rivals, but a statement victory on Wednesday would provide a major boost for Arteta’s side heading into a favourable run of seven-successive fixtures against none of the so-called top six clubs.
After being accused of breaching more than 100 financial rules by the Premier League and facing the prospect of unprecedented charges including points deductions or expulsion, Man City responded in defiant fashion with a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa in front of a fired-up Etihad crowd on Sunday.
Indeed, booing the Premier League anthem and singing songs in support of the club’s owners and manager while displaying numerous comical banners seemingly galvanised City’s players, and a first-half onslaught ultimately settled the contest courtesy of goals from Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, before Ollie Watkins pulled one back for Villa midway through the second half.
Guardiola, who now boasts the most Premier League wins (184) as a manager after 250 games, will have been pleased to have seen his side bounce back from their disappointing 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur a week prior, and while the off-field legal battle is to come, City’s next challenge takes place at the Emirates against an Arsenal side seeking to snatch their top-flight crown.
The Citizens have enjoyed their recent visits to the red side of North London as they have won each of their last six away matches against Arsenal across all competitions, and such a record along with the prospect of climbing to the top of the table, albeit on goal difference, is sure to motivate Guardiola’s side in their quest for victory on Wednesday.
However, City’s form on the road this season has left a little to be desired, winning only six of their 14 away games in all tournaments, and they head to the Emirates having lost their last two top-flight away fixtures against rivals Manchester United and Spurs.
Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus has stepped up his recovery from a knee injury, but the former Man City forward is still a few weeks away from returning to the first-team fold, while Mohamed Elneny is set to miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery last month.
Emile Smith Rowe (thigh) and Reiss Nelson (hamstring) have been hampered with injuries this term and while both have featured in training, Arteta has stated that the pair are “not yet ready to contribute” to the first team.
Arteta may continue with the same starting lineup for the seventh successive league game – which would be a club record in the top flight – although Trossard will be pushing to start ahead of Gabriel Martinelli on the left flank after scoring at the weekend.
As for Man City, John Stones remains sidelined for the rest of this month with a hamstring injury, while the Premier League’s top scorer Erling Braut Haaland has emerged as a doubt after coming off at half time in the win over Villa with a “big knock”.
It remains to be seen whether Guardiola will again select only three natural defenders from the start, but the likes of Rico Lewis, Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake will all be hoping to force their way back into the side after beginning as substitutes last time out.
Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri will likely be joined in centre-midfield by either Gundogan or Bernardo Silva, while the potential absence of Haaland from the first XI could see Julian Alvarez selected in attack along with Mahrez and Jack Grealish.
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Xhaka, Partey; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Jesus
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Lewis, Dias, Laporte, Ake; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Haaland, Grealish