After back-to-back losses in his last two Premier League matches and seven points adrift of leaders-Chelsea, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side would want to revive his title ambition by going all out against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, in what no doubt is the biggest clash of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures. To add spice to the encounter, at least to Nigerian fans, is the face-off between two Super Eagles players Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi
After an impressive coaching career in Spain and Germany, Pep Guardiola had never been on the receiving end like he is facing right now as Manchester City boss.
The Spaniard is fast losing track of the league title, having lost two matches in a row; at home to Chelsea and away to defending champion, Leicester. The Citizens recorded a home win on Wednesday against Watford but, still find themselves seven points adrift of the Blues.
Therefore, against Sunday’s visit of Arsenal, Guardiola and his side are wont to win to keep their title ambition intact.
However, Arsenal have been handed a huge advantage ahead of tomorrow’s game, as the duo of Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho had been ruled out as both were sent off in the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea.
Agüero was handed a four-match ban (taking into account his earlier ban for the incident against West Ham’s Winston Reid) whilst Fernandinho will miss the next three games, meaning both the Argentinian ace and Brazilian star will miss out, handing Arsene Wenger’s side an enormous advantage.
Of interest to Nigeria in the encounter is that Super Eagles duo of Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi will go head to head at the Etihad Stadium.
Both players have been having a good run this season and Arsene Wenger has given Iwobi a respectable number of starts and the Nigerian had not disappoint, while Iheanacho had scored vital goals for the Citizens, and with Aguero’s absence, another starting shirt beckons for the former U-17 star.
“Arsenal are a clever, quick team and I think this will be a very tough game for us, but one we have to win. I will be up against my brother, Alex Iwobi, who I know really well from the Nigerian national team – he’s a great player and he’s looking forward to playing against us too,” Iheanacho told the City website.
Meanwhile, ahead of the Merseyside derby against Liverpool, Ashley Williams is hoping Tuesday’s morale-boosting 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Goodison Park will inspire Everton on Monday.
Williams’s dramatic 86th minute winner gave Everton only a second victory in 12 matches and could not have been better timed ahead of the visit of their high-flying neighbours.
“There has been a bit of soul searching, we have spoken about it, we have all looked at ourselves in the mirror and asked what we could do different and better,” Williams told British media.
“We’ve been really trying to get back on it, not accepting things and raising the standards of our play and stuff. Hopefully now this gives us confidence. We have just beaten Arsenal and now got one of the biggest games of the season, if not the biggest coming up, and hopefully we can build on it.”
Manager Ronald Koeman said before Tuesday’s victory that his team had shown themselves to be “weak” and Williams felt the players had delivered the perfect riposte.
“I like to think we answered those questions but now we have to build on it and make sure it’s not just one game,” Williams added.
“The fight was there with a bit of quality too. It’s an Arsenal team which has been unbelievable this season and if we can perform like that against them, we should be able to do it every week.”
Serie A leaders Juventus face a showdown with second-placed AS Roma today, the sort of situation they revel in and where they are generally at their most dangerous.
Roma go into the game at the Juventus Stadium a tantalising four points behind the Turin side, knowing a win would open up the title race and give them real hope of ending the home team’s run of five successive league crowns.
A Juve victory, though, would send them seven points clear and more than likely turn this year’s championship into yet another one-horse race. “We will have the chance to play for the title and we’ll do it knowing that we deserved this opportunity,” said Roma coach Luciano Spalletti.
“We want to compete until the end but we face a very tough opponent. It’s a unique opportunity to close the gap.”
Juve are past masters at winning such games, as Roma are only too well aware.
Two seasons ago the teams met in early October after each won their first five matches.
An enthralling contest saw Juve convert two controversial penalties before Leonardo Bonucci’s late volley gave them an epic 3-2 triumph. That prompted Roma captain Francesco Totti to say Juve “always win by hook or by crook”, a remark angrily rejected by his opponents.
When they met again in March, Juve were nine points clear and a 1-1 draw in another bad-tempered game, that saw nine players booked and one sent off, virtually sealed the crown.
The Turin club eventually finished 17 points clear of the field. The previous season saw Roma top after 12 games before Juve overtook them.
By the time the sides met in early January, Juve had gone five points clear and it was last-chance saloon for Roma.
Juve’s 3-0 victory effectively ended the contest and they went on to win by 17 points with Roma again in second.
Last season’s title race hinged on a match between Juve and Napoli in February.
Napoli, who started with a two-point lead, had the better of the encounter only to be sunk by an 86th-minute goal from substitute Simone Zaza who had barely featured all season.
Juve never looked back and won 11 of their final 13 matches to finish nine points clear.
Ominously, things appear to be clicking into place for the leaders with midfielder Claudio Marchisio, forward Paulo Dybala and defender Giorgio Chiellini back from injury and Roma missing forward Mohamed Salah.History