My favorite part of the Christmas season has nothing to do with family or presents. It’s all about the hectic Premier League schedule that packs the calendar. This weekend, some teams will participate in their third match in a seven-day span. Included in the crowded fixture list is a top-of-the-table clash between Manchester City and Arsenal in a match that could have major title implications. Both of these sides have experienced some less than stellar results as of late, but can regain some much needed momentum Sunday?
Starting off with the Gunners, Arsene Wenger’s side is coming off of a disappointing 2-1 loss to Everton mid-week. The main reason for this loss had to be their horrendous defending from set pieces and crosses. On the first goal, Seamus Coleman was able to go completely unnoticed in the penalty area to nod in a Leighton Baines cross. On the second goal, Ashley Williams had to do barely any work to get free just outside the six-yard-box to score the winner. It looked like the Gunners were trying to employ a zonal defense rather than a man-marking system to cover the penalty area, and we saw the weaknesses that this system presents. Will they trot it out again at the Etihad or will Wenger change his tactics?
While Arsenal’s defense looked a bit disorganized at Goodison Park, Alexis Sanchez looked like a man in-form. The Chilean has been one of the most dangerous players in the entire league this month. In his four December matches, Sanchez has found the back of the net four times (including a hat-trick against West Ham). On the season, the former Barcelona man has found the back of the net 12 times, while assisting another five goals. It’s hard to argue that any other player on the Gunners besides maybe Mesut Ozil is more influential than Sanchez in attack. Last season when he played at the Etihad, Sanchez scored the Gunners’ second goal in a 2-2 draw. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s heavily involved this time around as well.
One attacking threat that Arsenal won’t have to worry about is Sergio Agüero. The Argentinian striker is in the middle of a four-game ban after a violent tackle against David Luiz. In his absence, the Cityzens have utilized Kelechi Iheanacho and Raheem Sterling in attack. Granted, both of these players are very talented in their own right, but neither of them can provide the same type of attacking threat that Agüero is capable of on a given day. Iheanacho was left out of the starting 11 against Watford on Wednesday, but that may have just been so he could go into this match fully rested. Pep isn’t shy to change up tactics and personnel drastically if needed, so who knows who we’ll see up front Sunday.
Another man that Guardiola will be without against Arsenal is Ilkay Gundogan. The German midfielder, who was really starting to come alive for City, suffered a severe knee injury against Watford and rumors have started to spread that his season could be over already. Luckily for Guardiola and the City faithful, the Sky Blues have no shortage of world class midfielders to choose from. The return of Yaya Toure from oblivion could prove to be incredibly useful, and let’s not forget about David Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne. As much as Guardiola will lament not having Gundogan for an extended period of time, he’s one of the few managers that has the personnel to handle the absence.
Despite the stars that will miss the match for City, I’m actually going to pick them to win this one. I think that we’re starting to see the beginning of the yearly Arsenal collapse, and I have no doubt that Guardiola watched the Everton match and saw all of the Gunners’ weaknesses. Final score: Man City 3-1 Arsenal