Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat to local rivals Manchester United has seemingly put an end to their title challenge for this season.
Pep Guardiola’s two-time defending champions have won two of their last five Premier League matches and are now 14 points behind leaders Liverpool, with Leicester City six clear in second.
Now, City must bounce back as they take on Arsenal, who finally ended a nine-match winless run – their worst streak since 1977 – with a 3-1 triumph over struggling West Ham.
With temporary boss Freddie Ljungberg having got that first win under his belt, can he put himself right in the frame to be the next permanent Gunners’ manager by shocking City?
City’s 2-1 Manchester derby defeat has left their title defence in ruins.
A comeback from such a mighty points deficit is surely unlikely given no club has ever accomplished that feat before, while City’s record of 32 points from their first 16 games of the campaign are a career worst for Guardiola.
And, on paper, City’s trip to Arsenal is hardly the ideal follow-up match.
Under the guidance of Ljungberg, Arsenal ended a wretched run on Monday as they beat West Ham away from home. While it was by no means vintage Arsenal, the Gunners did at least show some of the attacking verve many expect of such a talented forward unit.
With City likely to still be reeling from their derby loss, Arsenal might just feel Sunday represents a great opportunity to claim a victory that would provide a massive boost ahead of the busy Christmas period.
Mesut Ozil is back in favour at Arsenal again since Ljungberg’s temporary appointment and they will need him at his very best if they are to even get remotely close to a top-four finish.
He certainly has not been at that level since the start of last season, when he averaged a goal involvement (five goals, two assists) every 249 minutes. This term that has dropped even more to one every 610 minutes.
At his best, Ozil got six goals and 19 assists in 35 top-flight matches back in 2015-16, having a hand in one or the other every 122 minutes.
Kevin De Bruyne fulfils a similar creative role for City, having averaged a goal or assist almost every match (one every 94 minutes), though he also offers more in terms of box-to-box responsibilities than the German.
With four goals and nine assists, De Bruyne is on course for the most productive season of his career and he has definitely not suffered long-lasting effects of his injury problems last term.
The Belgium international is averaging four chances created in each match in 2019-20, while Ozil’s record of 18 opportunities laid on in seven matches is significantly less impressive.
Although Arsenal traditionally are seen as one of the Premier League’s best teams, they go into Sunday’s game without back-to-back wins in the top flight this season. Of the Gunners’ past six domestic games, they have won only once, while also drawing three.
But City’s away form will not offer Ljungberg’s men with much reason to quake in their boots, given the champions have lost twice in their six most recent league trips away from the Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal have lost their past four Premier League meetings with City. The last time they lost five consecutive top-flight matches to a single club was against United between September 1983 and August 1985.
City have won on each of their two most recent Premier League trips to Arsenal, which is more than they had managed in their previous 32 top-flight visits to the Gunners.
Victory for City will ensure they are the first club to win three consecutive away games against Arsenal in the top flight since West Ham did so between 1991 and 1995.
City will be eager for Sergio Aguero to be fit for the clash. The Argentina striker has scored eight goals in his past eight meetings with the Gunners in all competitions, more than any other player since he joined from Atletico Madrid in 2011.
But the champions will need to be alert to Alexandre Lacazette. He has scored 100 per cent of his five league goals this term at home, a record matched by no one else. – Omnisport