Monday, 5 June, 2023

Arsenal on the ropes as Man City aim for knockout blow

Arsenal's trip to Manchester City on Wednesday has been circled for months as a potentially decisive date in the Premier League title race, but the Gunners must now wrestle back a huge swing in momentum towards the defending champions.

Mikel Arteta's men travel to the Etihad five points clear at the top of the table, yet many see the title as City's to lose thanks to two games in hand and home advantage in midweek.

Arsenal could have amassed an 11-point advantage in recent weeks to pile the pressure on City, as they try to balance their effort in a bid to win a treble of Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

Instead, Arteta's young guns have showed their inexperience of dealing with a title race in the run-in as three consecutive draws have gifted City back control of their own destiny.

Twice Arsenal blew 2-0 leads to draw at Liverpool and West Ham. On Friday, it was the league leaders' turn to produce a late fightback from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 against Southampton.

But the silence that greeted the final whistle at the Emirates, accompanied by Arteta's head in his hands and Arsenal bodies strewn across the turf illustrated that even salvaging a point felt like defeat against a side sitting bottom of the table.

The consistent problem across all three games has been Arsenal's inability to defend. However, Arteta has urged his Premier League leaders to make the most of an "incredible opportunity".

"It is going to be a tough night and challenge, yes, but the opportunity is incredible for us," he said.

"We knew from the beginning -- you want to win a Premier League, you have to go to Spurs and you have to beat them, you have to go to Chelsea and you have to beat them.

"This is what we have been doing, that is why we are here and now we have to go to City and we have to beat them -- you want to be champion, you have to win these matches, it is as simple as that."

Showing any weakness against Pep Guardiola's men in a title race is likely to prove fatal, but Arsenal simply cannot afford a similar defensive display against City's array of attacking talent.

The English champions have won all 11 of their games at the Etihad in 2023, scoring 43 goals in the process.

Erling Haaland is just two goals away from matching the all-time Premier League record of 34 goals in a season and 50 in all competitions in his first year in English football.

Even when the Norwegian drew a blank in Saturday's 3-0 win over Sheffield United, Riyad Mahrez stepped up with the first FA Cup semi-final hat-trick since 1958.

As an example of City's firepower, Mahrez is still likely to drop back to the bench with the in-form Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva supporting Haaland in attack.