Arsenal hold off City charge in showdown?

The chasing champions host the languishing leaders in the most highly-an­ticipated game of the Premier League calendar tonight, as Manchester City take on Arsenal in a top-of-the-table spectacular at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola’s men eased pass Sheffield United 3-0 to reach the FA Cup final over the weekend, prior to which the Gunners dropped more points in the title race in a 3-3 draw with Southampton.

Still fighting on three fronts as their end-of-season jugger­naut crushes every foe in their path, Man. City can officially assume control of the Premier League title race tonight, where both teams will step out onto the Etihad turf with their fate in their own hands.

Fresh from booking a Cham­pions League semi-final date with Real Madrid courtesy of a 4-1 aggregate victory over Bay­ern Munich, Man. City kept their hopes of FA Cup glory alive as Riyad Mahrez single-handedly demolished the Blades at Wem­bley, scoring a treble to send the Citizens through to a Manches­ter derby showpiece event.

Aside from an uncomfort­able final 15 minutes, Guardi­ola’s side also encountered few difficulties en route to a com­prehensive win over Leicester City in their last Premier League bout, moving them onto 70 points for the season – just five below their faltering visitors with two games in hand.

Now unbeaten in 16 succes­sive matches across all tourna­ments – winning 13 of them – a merciless Man. City host Arsenal having strung together a six-game triumphant streak in the Premier League, albeit while keeping just two clean sheets in their last 10 top-flight games, offering their visitors a small slice of hope.

However, Guardiola’s side have played 12 games at the Etihad in 2023 and have won all 12 of them – scoring at least two goals in every game barring a 1-0 FA Cup win over the Gunners, who could not choose a better time to end their long-running hoodoo against Arteta’s former club.

While Guardiola may have been feeling a small sense of pride watching his former protégé threaten to wrestle the title out of Man. City’s grasp, there will be no room for sentimentality on the touchline here, as Arteta somehow attempts to engineer the biggest win of his embryonic managerial career so far.

However, the signs of frailty became apparent in 2-2 draws with West Ham United and Liverpool, where Arsenal let successive two-goal leads slip for the first time ever in the Premier League, and ongoing defensive concerns reared their ugly heads when Southamp­ton visit the Emirates for Friday’s top vs. bottom encounter.

Staring down the barrel of de­feat at 3-1 down, Arsenal managed to pull off one of their customary late comebacks through Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, mean­ing that they remain in control of their destiny for the next 48 hours at least, but pessimism is starting to increase once more.

With Chelsea and Newcastle United – who destroyed Totten­ham Hotspur 6-1 on Sunday – to come in the next couple of weeks, Arteta must work overtime to find an answer to Arsenal’s rearguard calamities, having seen his side fail to keep a clean sheet in six games since a 3-0 success at Fulham last month.

Nevertheless, Arsenal officially remain the best-performing away side in the Premier League season with 36 points from 16 games on the road – conceding a joint-low 13 goals – while they have found the back of the net at least twice in each of their last eight top-flight matches home or away.

The age-old Man. City curse is still bedevilling them, though, as Arsenal have lost each of their last 11 Premier League games against Man. City since a 2-2 draw in 2017. Should that sequence stretch to 12 today, the Gunners may very well kiss the title goodbye.

Man. City head into today’s crunch clash with an almost clean bill of health, but Guardiola will be sweating over the fitness of Nathan Ake – who scored the win­ner in January’s FA Cup success over Arsenal – as he nurses a thigh injury.

The Catalonian coach was not shy about ringing the changes for the FA Cup semi and will recall the likes of John Stones, Ruben Dias, Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne to the XI here, while Mahrez’s hat-trick against the Blades could see the Algerian play his way into a start too.

The irrepressible Erling Braut Haaland sits on 32 goals in the top flight, and needs just one more to break the record for a 38-game season, while a seventh hat-trick in Man. City colours would see the 22-year-old enter a league of his own in the Premier League – Andy Cole and Alan Shearer currently lead the way with 34 strikes in a 42-game campaign.

Arsenal also have a key defen­sive concern to worry about, as William Saliba continues to make slow progress in his recovery from a back injury, and the French centre-back is expected to miss to­day’s game and potentially the rest of the season – the worst possible news for Gunners as the maligned Rob Holding comes face-to-face with Haaland. –SportsMole

Today’s EPL fixtures:

Nottm Forest v Brighton

Chelsea v Brentford

West Ham v Liverpool

Man. City v Arsenal

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