Arsenal should be concerned by Man City’s return to form ahead of heavyweight Premier League clash


Manchester City go to Arsenal on Sunday for a top of the Premier League table clash with confidence restored and normal winning service resumed.

I was on hand in Germany to watch Pep Guardiola’s team boss possession and the game in their 3-1 win over RB Leipzig on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, inspired by a moment of genius from Julián Álvarez as he chipped a delicious goal to effectively win the game following a spell of stubborn resistance from the Bundesliga side. The result ended any concerns that City might be showing signs of vulnerability after successive losses to Newcastle and Wolves.

The defending Premier League champions have not lost three games in a row in a single season since 2018 and never looked like doing so in Leipzig, where their share of possession was a staggering 88% at one stage.

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The return of midfield anchor Rodri, who was available to play in Europe despite his current domestic ban, made a significant difference. Manchester City lose only seven percent of games when Rodri plays, rising to 33% when he is missing.

You can easily make the case that he’s one of the team’s mot valuable players, and the good news for Arsenal is that Rodri cannot play on Sunday. It is the final game of his three-match suspension and so the key to this big match might be how effectively City can cover Rodri’s absence in that “No. 6” role.

Guardiola clearly does not trust Kalvin Phillips and Mateo Kovacic; for all his class, Kovacic failed when handed the job in the shocking defeat by Wolves. John Stones, out since the Community Shield in August, is fit again and was on the bench in Germany. He has the nous and passing range to play that anchor role if needed, but is he going to be ready or sharp enough for a start against Arsenal after seeing so little action so far this season? It is a difficult dilemma for Guardiola, who will have to improvise in a key area of the pitch.

One man who certainly advanced his case in Leipzig was 18-year-old Rico Lewis, who was a bundle of ideas and energy alongside Rodri. When asked to assess the display of the Manchester-born youngster, Guardiola smiled broadly and said, “Wow!”

More cheer for City is the return from injury of Bernardo Silva, which means Kevin De Bruyne is the only significant name still in the treatment room. Against that, however, Jack Grealish looked subdued in the Champions League after returning from a nasty leg injury, and against Arsenal he could lose his starting spot to the pacy and direct Jérémy Doku, who scored City’s third goal in Germany.

Meanwhile Erling Haaland, typically a goal-scoring machine, is experiencing a rare dry spell. Five games without netting is his longest Champions League drought, and he hardly got a kick against Wolves’ warhorse Craig Dawson last weekend. However, a hungry Haaland is never quiet for long and still has eight goals in 11 games this season.

Arsenal, for whom the title is a holy grail, not having won it since the 2003-04 season, will certainly provide a far stiffer test than a rather unambitious Leipzig. Still stinging from the way City conquered them last season, the Gunners approach will be fascinating in manager Mikel Arteta’s latest mind game against his old City boss and mentor, Guardiola.

You suspect Arsenal’s Champions League loss at Lens, where Bukayo Saka picked up an injury, might have been caused by minds already focused on the big clash against City. It is not in Arsenal’s DNA to sit back at home and play on the counter, but Wolves showed that denying City’s playmakers those half spaces might be the most effective game plan.

However, a bolder, adventurous approach by Arsenal could easily backfire. Consider this: Both Fulham and Spurs have gone to the Emirates and exploited defensive shortcomings in 2-2 draws.

The gap between the teams narrowed to only one point last weekend, with City atop the table on 18 points, but their midweek win in Saxony sent out an ominous warning that City are back to their winning ways. And that, more than anything else, should worry Arsenal.



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