Premier League: Leaders Arsenal host champions City in a potentially decisive encounter

League leaders Arsenal have a mountain to climb on Wednesday night when title rivals Manchester City pay a visit to the Emirates for their first Premier League encounter of the season. Both sides met last month in an FA Cup tie with City edging out the Gunners 1-0 with a Nathan Ake goal.

But this is the big one when it comes to both teams’ Premier League title aspirations. Due to Arsenal’s recent underwhelming form, City, who were at times eight points behind, are within three now and a win will level Pep Guardiola’s team with his protégé Mikel Arteta’s men at 51 points each, putting them ahead on goal difference. Arsenal have a game in hand over their nearest title challengers, something that might have ramifications when the season races towards its climax.

When these two sides met in the FA Cup, Arsenal were in a fine run of form, having lost just once in the league while Manchester City were blowing hot and cold having lost to Manchester United as well as Southampton in the EFL Cup. This time around, City look more confident with their recent 3-1 win over Aston Villa, showcasing everything that makes them look so menacing.

However, they have been inconsistent this season, losing 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur before the Villa game. Erling Haaland hasn’t scored a goal since a hat-trick against Wolverhampton Wanderers on January 22. Since then, City have played three matches and in large swathes of them, the Norwegian has been starved of service. He even came off early against Villa after suffering what seemed like a knock and City will be hoping it’s nothing too serious.

Leaders dropping points

Arsenal, meanwhile, are in a tricky patch of form, having lost to relegation strugglers Everton and scraping out a 1-1 draw with Brentford. The Brentford goal was controversial though with referee Lee Mason forgetting to draw offside lines for the equaliser. Christian Norgaard was in an offside position when he crossed for Ivan Toney and the goal would have been ruled out if the VAR lines had been drawn.

But regardless, the Gunners did not look like the freescoring side that has enthralled fans since the season began. And now with City in front of them, they face a team against whom they have failed to win their last 13 Premier League matches. An even more damning stat reveals that the Gunners have been defeated by City in the last 10 encounters which is their longest losing streak against an opponent in their storied history.

But the shadow of a far bigger threat looms large over City after they were accused of breaching more than 100 financial fair play rules by the Premier League with the defending champions facing the prospect of a points deduction or even getting kicked out of the league altogether. Even though Guardiola passionately stood by his side in a recent press conference and his players and fans responded in kind during the recent win over Aston Villa, the weight of accusations might ultimately be too heavy to take.

It’ll be really interesting to see if City can keep their focus on the field because Arsenal are a very different challenge than an 11th-placed Villa. If it all unravels for City at the Emirates on Wednesday, Arsenal would be a huge step closer to claiming their first Premier League title in 19 years.

Arsenal vs Manchester City (Thursday 1 AM)

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