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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

Why Man City, and not Arsenal, are the Premier League favourites


By Alessandro Schiavone at Etihad Stadium


As this year’s Premier League quest has narrowed to a two-horse race between Arsenal and Manchester City with Manchester hoping for a couple of potential faux pas to enter the frame, Capital Football have analysed why Pep Guardiola’s side are still the team to beat.


That is, of course, only if they are not deducted points for breaching financial rules.


Either side endured a nightmare weekend with the Gunners faltering at Sean Dyche’s new-look Everton while Man City couldn’t replicate their 4-2 win over Spurs from last month, losing to Harry Kane’s club-record 267th goal.


But all things considered, the Man City players must be kicking themselves harder as they failed to take advantage of a rare Gunners slip-up having travelled to North London knowing the Goodison Park result beforehand. Arsenal lost but it could have been worse, as their hated rivals spared them any regrets.


Ironically, this season, Man City are the chasing side despite wrapping up and sending Gabriel Jesus to London when Arsenal knocked on their door.


Guardiola was happy to let the Brazilian quit, going on to bigger and better things, as he replaced him with someone he deemed in a different league: Erling Haaland. Yet Haaland sits behind Jesus in the standings. For now.


Few people saw this scenario coming but in the opening six months of the season Arsenal have been the hungrier and more consistent team of the two. The more cohesive as well.


However if Manchester City hit top gear until the end of the season, with 51 points up for grabs for them, Arsenal better win them all to be assured of a first Premier League trophy in 19 years.


The next big test they face is the arrival of the reigning champions themselves tomorrow week.


Lose that, and their title ambitions may take a huge dent. And there are more than just three points at stake. Whoever wins this six-pointer may boast the edge in psychological terms. Knowing that you beat your closest rival will boost your confidence.


Having Pep Guardiola’s side beating you and as a result hot on your heels can lead to a capitulation in the ilk of that in 2022, when the North Londoners were pipped by Tottenham to the last Champions League spot despite a commanding lead heading into the last month.


And anyway, what’s eight points in football? That’s nothing more than a terrible week at the office, or three defeats in footballing terms. And taking the quick-paced nature of the game into account, one bad result can lead to another. Doubts may creep in in no time. Old St James' Park hostd may resurfaxe. Moreover, if City do the double over Arsenal, with the return leg taking place in April, they just need to hope for one more Arsenal defeat to mathematically make sure of matters and get their hands on the title. Provided that Arsenal pick up three points in their game in hand otherwise they can completely rely on themselves.


Capital Football have chosen the clash between Man City and Wolves at the end of last month as the reference game to make the point as to why the Manchester-club will eventually get their hands on the title.


That particular game has fuelled the belief that despite being destined to slip eight points behind Arteta’s men, Manchester are still the odds-on favourites, the dominant and better equipped team. And if they gain at least 45 points from their next 51, the title will be theirs unless Arsenal can do the same, which looks highly unlikely taking their spring form in recent campaigns and into account.


We've come up with three reasons why Man City can leave Arsenal trailing


They always find a breaktrough


In the game against City, Wolves kept it extremely tight at the back, nullified the incoming threats and thwarted everything that came their way.


Jose Sa produced good saves from Haaland and Rodri, Grealish failed to direct a laser light Rico Henri cross goalwards from a difficult angle while Collins somehow managed to get his boot out to prevent Haaland from getting first to a through ball. They defended efficiently as a team and ensured that De Bruyne and the Norwegian wouldn’t combine by closing the Belgian superstar down whenever he had the ball. For long periods it looked as though not even a mouse could get through. But like so often against Man City, one lapse and all the good work is undone. Often it's just a matter of time before they find a way through anyway, no matter how well their rivals defend.


Yet it wasn’t even a Wolves mistake that led to the hosts’ opener, but Kevin De Bruyne’s vision to pick out Haaland at the far post. His counterpart Odegaard has been one of the players of the season with his stock rising but both players cannot be compared yet. De Bruyne remains the most lethal player in the Premier League and can unlock any team at any time.


The main difference between the two? Odegaard has to be at his best to affect games, De Bruyne doesn’t. Even if he plays badly he's often still decisive. The same goes for their respective sides: City can win games even if they play badly while playing well drastically increases the Gunners' chances of getting the three points. And when City take the lead, they often go on to complete a rout. Which is what happened against the Molineux outfit. Goal machine Haaland killed the game stone dead from 13 yards before a Sa shocker paved the way for his hat-trick in the 54th minute. Who was the last Arsenal striker to score for fun like the Norwegian? In a similar game against Newcastle at home, the Gunners failed to score because they don’t have a player of Haaland’s class. And if the ex-Dortmund star stays fit until June, he can spearhead his team to Premier League glory on his own. Like Henry did two decades ago.


Quality on the bench


Not so long ago, Nathan Ake was a benchwarmer at the Etihad. Yet, he’s the most improved player of any top-six side this term. His rise is even keeping Ruben Dias out of the starting XI. In the game against Wolves he denied Sarabia a Premier League goal on his debut with an excellent intervention. Yet if Dias is fully fit, the Dutchman will have to make do with a place on the bench again. And the question that arises is: who can Arsenal bring on if one of their first teamers at the back get injured? New signing Jakub Kiwior is promising but no one knows if he’s ready for the Premier League. Tomiyasu looked solid last season but lost his place to Ben White’s right-back conversion after the return of William Saliba. Their defence picks itself while Guardiola can decide to rotate whenever he wants.


Experience


Arsenal have been at their best so far, City haven’t. Yet for all their hiccups, they are only five points adrift. Arsenal deserve credit for winning most of their games despite the long-term absence of Gabriel Jesus, but have a history for imploding in the closing stages of the season. And apart from an obvious contrast in talent and experience, City also have a history of coming out on top in the end and defend their crown. The Emirates will be the venue for an eagerly-anticipated fixture between the two sides next week. A venue City know well, having left it in ruins in each of their last three visits. A fourth in a row would send Gunners into a state of panic.


































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