After the slip against Newcastle at St. James’ Park on Tuesday, thereby allowing Liverpool to extend their lead to five points, Manchester City would be seeking to get their title defence on track and are expected to go all out against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday to put pressure on the Reds
Manchester City have another chance to put some pressure on Premier League leaders Liverpool when they take on Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Citizens suffered a sock 2-1 loss at Newcastle United in their last outing and cannot afford to drop more points against their top-four challenging opponents.
The midweek round of Premier League fixtures was supposed to be all about whether Liverpool would hold their nerve with Man City breathing down their neck. The champions had the advantage of playing 24 hours earlier in arguably an easier fixture on paper, yet the Reds ended Wednesday night another point clear of their title rivals.
Tuesday’s loss at St James’ Park was made all the more surprising by the fact that Sergio Aguero had opened the scoring inside the opening minute. From that point on, though, Pep Guardiola’s men seemed to take the three points for granted and they made the trip back south with a fourth league defeat of the season to their name.
City had won eight matches in a row heading into that Newcastle clash, scoring 33 goals and conceding just two. In fact, since Reberto Firmino temporarily restored parity in the league meeting between the Citizens and Liverpool on January 3, Guardiola’s men had scored 30 goals without reply.
Then came goals from Solomon Rondon and Matt Ritchie in midweek, crushing that momentum the champions had built up over the past month. Now City must quickly pick themselves up, as they take on Arsenal and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in the space of a week, either side of a rearranged trip to Everton.
The fixtures may not be kind for Guardiola, who admits that his side cannot afford to drop more points if they are to overhaul Liverpool, but they do at least have the opportunity to close the gap on top spot to two points ahead of the Reds’ trip to West Ham United on Monday night.
Even accounting for their four successive league wins between January 3 and January 20, City’s form over the past eight weeks will be a concern for Guardiola. City have lost four of their last nine top-flight outings, equalling the number of games lost in their previous 72.
City have already dropped more points than in the entirety of 2017-18, albeit in a season when they broke countless records in racking up 100 points, and they no longer seem the ruthless force they were 12 months ago.
That is best epitomised by the fact that three of their four defeats since early December have come after scoring first. Prior to that run, they had lost just three of their previous 96 matches when opening the scoring.
The wheels have not exactly come off yet, with City into the EFL Cup final, through to the last 16 of the FA Cup and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, but Guardiola will know that his side have a big mountain to climb if they are to retain their Premier League crown.
Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff City marked the first time that Arsenal have won back-to-back league matches since overcoming Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur as November turned to December.
Unai Emery’s side have lacked consistency in recent weeks, losing away to Southampton and West Ham United, heavily to Liverpool and drawing against Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United, (managed by Jose Mourinho at the time).
Yet a well-earned 2-0 win over Chelsea and the slender victory over Cardiff in the space of 10 days, either side of a FA Cup loss to Man United, has lifted the Gunners into fourth place. Goal difference may be all that separates them and Chelsea, but it is now advantage Arsenal with 14 games to go.
Arsenal, not for the first time under Emery, struggled to get going in a poor first-half showing against Cardiff, requiring a half-time reshuffle with the introduction of Alex Iwobi to finally take control of the match and earn all three points.
Winning away from home has proved to be far trickier for Arsenal this term, though, doing so just four times in 11 matches, losing four and drawing the other three. Just one clean sheet has been kept during their last 19 away outings, meanwhile, coming in a 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town last May.
For all the talk of their inconsistency, however, the Gunners have taken only three points fewer than Man City since August 20 and have lost fewer matches in that time.
Emery, who has never won a match against Guardiola in 11 previous meetings, now needs a major scalp to show that his side have stepped up a level since Arsene Wenger’s departure last summer.
Victory at the Etihad Stadium would certainly send out a loud and clear message, but Arsenal’s record against fellow top-six sides in poor in comparison to this weekend’s opponents.
Meanwhile, Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri will be after an immediate response today when his side take on Premier League basement boys Huddersfield Town at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues suffered a shock 4-0 loss at Bournemouth in midweek to slip out of the top four and see the pressure grow on manager Sarri, who has been in charge for less than seven months.
The four-goal hammering at the Vitality Stadium was Chelsea’s heaviest loss in the top flight since 1996 and was the first time supporters appeared to actively turn on the man in the dugout.
Visiting fans were frustrated at the Italian’s decision to take off new signing Gonzalo Higuain and replace him with Oliver Giroud, though the man brought in to solve the Blues’ goalscoring problems made barely any impact during his hour on the pitch.
Chelsea dominated the first half on the south coast but their 405 passes led to just five shots at goal – a familiar theme as supporters grow more and more frustrated with the famed ‘Sarri-ball’ style of play.
Sarri suggested that Higuain is struggling for fitness following the loss to Bournemouth, but the under-fire Italian is expected to stick with the Juventus loanee on today.
If not, it is between Giroud and Eden Hazard to lead the line, though the latter has made it clear that he is not a fan of playing through the middle.