Arsenal or City? We look ahead to the games which will decide the title
This week’s international break gives us at Capital Football the chance to sit back and analyse the final games for the title chasers – Arsenal and Manchester City – ahead of an absorbing spring. Here, Charlie Stong looks forward to the crucial fixtures ahead.
This year’s Premier League title race is perfectly poised. If the top two were level on points right now, you may have thought Manchester City’s seemingly more favourable run-in, on paper, may give them the edge.
But Arsenal’s position - eight points clear, albeit having played one more game - tips that pendulum back towards equilibrium.
And in any case, as the great Brian Clough once rightly pointed out, football is played on grass, not on paper.
It’s easy to forget that there is still more than a quarter of this intriguing league season left, but there is no doubt that City will not want the gap to widen further.
Right now things are probably tighter than the points difference suggests, and just one unexpected result could give the other team the incentive to go for the jugular as games begin to run out.
There are some vital clusters of matches ahead. City will be looking at Arsenal’s trips to Anfield and St James’ Park, as well as a game at the Emirates against Chelsea, as potential stumbling blocks – and Arsenal still have to go to West Ham for yet another London derby.
For the Gunners, the potential to make their big move comes even sooner, for if Liverpool manage to make fools of the Citizens at the Etihad on April 1, the Gunners can open up a 10, or maybe even 11, point lead with victory over Leeds at the Emirates later that day.
Even with a game in hand, a double digits deficit in April really is a mountain to climb and would make the Gunners even firmer favourites with the bookmakers than the 4/6 generally offered today. City are 11/8 - the bookies, unsurprisingly, giving little away.
Should the points difference remain at eight after April Fool’s Day, however, the pressure could turn back on to the Gunners.
A City win at Southampton could cut the gap to five before Arsenal’s trip to Anfield on Easter Sunday.
And the Manchester side will still have that game in hand at home to West Ham to claw back further ground.
Then a couple of weeks after that comes possibly the pivotal period, when Chelsea’s visit to the Emirates is sandwiched in between Gunners’ trips to the Etihad and St James’ – all in the space of 10 days.
If Arsenal are still top of the tree after those games, they will fancy their chances going into the final three – Brighton at home, Forest away and Wolves at home.
In fact even if City have a slight advantage by then their attention could be distracted by a semi-final in the one competition to elude Pep Guardiola at the Etihad – the Champions League.
City face potential banana skins at Fulham, Brighton and Everton late on, and their penultimate league game sees them take on Chelsea. Would they want to do Arsenal a favour?
What is certain is that there are still quite a few twists and turns to come in this year’s race – and our bet is that it is going right down to the wire.