Arsenal v Manchester City: Champions to show their class

Arsenal v Manchester City: Champions to show their class

Arsenal have chance to show their progress

There’s an undeniable feelgood factor at Arsenal at present, but if they are to show their improvement isn’t a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes (look it up, kids), then they must start to perform better against top sides. This term, the Gunners have lost 4-0 at Liverpool, 3-2 at Manchester United, 5-0 at Manchester City and 2-0 at home to Chelsea. Their only notable victories against sides with top four ambitions were the North London derby win over Nuno Espirito Santo’s sorry Spurs in September and the 2-0 win at Leicester City in October.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been huge progress this season, especially when you consider the Gunners lost their first three games of the Premier League campaign. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has confounded his critics by producing a series of impeccable displays, Martin Odegaard has returned to the creative sweet spot he found at Real Sociedad, and Bukayo Saka has scored three goals across his last two games.

However, there has to be an element of caution and realism here. Arsenal’s current four-match PL winning streak includes victories against bottom-eight sides Southampton, Leeds United and Norwich City, and nine of their 11 PL successes came against teams outside the current top eight. If you were to give Arteta’s men a half-term grade, it’d be a B – good progress, but can do better.

Mikel Arteta will miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19. Albert Sambi Lokonga, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Pablo Mari have all returned to training after contracting the virus, but Takehiro Tomiyasu hasn’t. That means Ben White may play at full-back. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appears surplus to requirements, and is unlikely to feature.

Relentless City on course for glory

Although Pep Guardiola would never admit it, this is now Manchester City’s Premier League title to lose. Chelsea and Liverpool both faltered over the festive period, and play each other on Sunday. If City win in North London, they’ll at least temporarily have a double-digit lead over both of their closest challengers. The market certainly seems convinced – City are as short as 1.121/8 on the Exchange’s Premier League Winner market.

City have reeled off ten league wins in a row, scoring 31 goals in the process and conceding just six, with half of those coming in the same 6-3 win over Leicester City. Overall in the league this term, the champions have scored 50 goals and leaked just 12, with both figures broadly in line with their Infogol Expected Goals figures. The debate about whether City need an established central striker has been shown to be a facile one – City aren’t underperforming in front of goal, and they have five different players who have contributed at least five Premier League goals. 16 different City players have found the net in the league this term.

Phil Foden scored the winner in the 1-0 victory at Brentford last time out, and has two goals in his last three matches, while his England colleague Raheem Sterling has rattled in five goals across his last five matches. Riyad Mahrez has scored in each of his last four competitive appearances, and Kevin de Bruyne has three goals in his last four games.

Rodri has missed the last two games, and Pep Guardiola will be keen to restore him to midfield if possible, with Fernandinho an option to once again fill in. Kyle Walker has been sidelined since he was sent off in the UCL defeat at RB Leipzig, while Mahrez and Sterling could return to the starting XI.

City are value even at odds-on

City are the fair favourites here in the Match Odds market at 1.574/7, and have won their last four meetings with Arsenal. The champions have won six away games in a row in the top flight, and four of those wins have been by two goals or more. I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from backing City -1.0 on the Asian Handicap at 1.910/11. A one-goal City win sees your stake returned, and a bigger win gives you a payout at close to evens.

City to start strongly

I fear Arsenal’s fragility against top sides will come into play again here, and there’s an argument to back City/City in the HT/FT market at 2.427/5. City have conceded just two first-half goals in the Premier League this season, and nine of their last ten PL wins have seen them lead at half time and full time.

In the reverse fixture, City were 3-0 up by half time, and if you look at Arsenal’s six PL defeats this term, they have trailed at the break in four of them.

If you want a different angle that keeps City in your portfolio, you can back City to win and Raheem Sterling to have a shot on target at 1.8910/11 on the Bet Builder. Sterling has had at least three shots in each of his last four Premier League appearances, and when it comes to shots on target per 90 in the Premier League, Sterling is fifth in the whole league with a figure of 1.34.

Xhaka to misbehave again?

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was sent off for an absurd lunge in the reverse fixture, and since his return from injury, the Swiss enforcer has been cautioned in three of his six appearances. He’ll have his hands full trying to contain City here, and I like the look of his price of 15/8 to be shown a card. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Xhaka has collected 40 yellow cards in the Premier League (he also has four reds in his PL career), and he shows no signs of changing his approach.