Mesut zil has been among the best players in the English Premier League this season, and could be the nucleus around which Arsenal FC launch a serious title challenge for the first time in years

 

Incredibly, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City will be top of the English Premier League on Christmas Day, and although the Foxes have given people serious pause for thought with victories over Chelsea FC and Everton in their previous two games, there is still a sense that they will eventually fall away in the new year.

Monday’s clash between Arsenal FC and Manchester City, then, is a battle between the two sides arguably best placed to steal Chelsea’s crown. Although neither side has been convincing throughout, both have managed to stay within touching distance of the league summit.

The Gunners have suffered injuries to key attacking players this season, but the consistent brilliance of one man has had them competing for top spot with Leicester and Manchester City, and has given supporters a real sense of optimism going into the festive period.

Mesut zil’s wizardry has been a treat to watch for football fans, but it is his consistency that has finally begun to sway public opinion of him — from someone who underperformed in big games, to someone who is carrying a team challenging for the title on his shoulders.

zil’s brilliance could take Arsenal FC all the way

Criticism of the German international has always been somewhat nebulous with respect to his lack of work-rate, with pundits and fans often failing to reconcile statistics with what they saw on the pitch. Stats showed the former Real Madrid midfielder often covered more ground than peers and opposition midfielders in games where he was criticised for not putting in enough effort.

Although there is no doubting that zil did not quite live up to the standards expected of him in the past, little has changed in terms of his playing style. What was perceived as a lack of intensity or fight is now seen as artistry — as effortless genius. Every impudent flick or defence-splitting pass has been extolled by the media and fans alike, even as the 27-year-old waltzes around the pitch in much the same languid style that has generated such opprobrium in the past.

The difference this season has been the German’s consistency in terms of delivering an end product that has had a palpable effect on Arsenal FC’s results. Most saliently, that has included the ‘big’ games that have so often been the Gunners’ downfall in the past few seasons.

In an incredible run stretching back to the 19th of September when ArsA?ne Wenger’s men were beaten at Stamford Bridge, zil has provided a goal or assist in every single Premier League game for 10 consecutive games, including a goal and an assist in the hugely impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates.

 zil wizardry could win Arsenal FC the Premier League, but Manchester City will provide truest test of the Gunners' title credentials

Mesut zil has been hugely influential for Arsenal FC, racking up an incredible 13 assists already this season

Manchester City will be a sterner test, of that there is no doubt. The Citizens have been unconvincing of late, but will know that Monday’s game is an opportunity to stamp their title credentials against an Arsenal side that will be without several key figures in midfield.

Mesut zil, however, will have designs on making a statement of his own, as a match-winning performance against the title favourites will undoubtedly be. So often the difference-maker for the North London side this season, his creative skills could be extremely effective against a defence that has proved to be extremely vulnerable to forwards making runs in behind.

Baf timbi Gomis profited from such a lapse at the Etihad the last time out, while Mark Hughes’ Stoke City ripped Manuel Pellegirni’s men to shreds, with NicolA?s Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala often as far apart from each other as if in different time zones. There are few footballers in the league better than zil at exploiting such defensive gaps, and the likes of Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell will be looking to get run beyond Olivier Giroud to give the German someone to aim at.

A win against Manchester City — and another good performance from zil — will go a long way towards convincing the naysayers that Arsenal have a chance to win the Premier League crown this season.

Pellegrini’s influence on the City team will be evident in coming six months

In one of the worst-kept secrets in world football, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola will almost certainly swap the Allianz Arena for the Etihad Stadium in the summer, and confirmation from the Bavarian giants of his departure yesterday — and the announcement of Carlo Ancelotti as his replacement — has eradicated any remaining doubts.

As such, Manuel Pellegrini finds himself in a strange situation ahead of what is likely to be his last half-season as Manchester City manager. Jupp Heynckes had a similar ‘problem’ in 2012-2013 at Bayern Munich, but was able to get the best out of his players and win a historic treble partly because his future was clear rather than in spite of it.

 zil wizardry could win Arsenal FC the Premier League, but Manchester City will provide truest test of the Gunners' title credentials

Manuel Pellegrini’s influence on the team and the bond with his key players will be tested in the next six months

Jos Mourinho’s best season as a manager came in 2009-2010, when it was his turn to win a treble with Inter Milan — the first and only time the feat has been achieved in Italian football — and the Portuguese’s last six months as Inter manager brought out the best in him and his players.

His plans for the future were not made public, but the 52-year-old later revealed he always knew it would be his last season. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that players ‘sense’ these things, and the collective effort in the Champions League in particular was reflective of their desire to fight for a manager they hugely respected.

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In both cases, however, the squad had a real affinity for the manager, and the desire to achieve success in their remaining time together acted as a catalyst for success. Manuel Pellegrini, too, must know his time at Manchester City will soon be up — as will his players.

It remains to be seen, then, how much the Chilean can draw out of his players in their remaining time together. There is always the risk of players looking forward to the next season and losing focus, particularly those not accustomed to challenging for the title every season.

The coming six months will arguably be the truest indication of how strong the bond between Pellegrini and his players is. His relationship with the team’s spine — Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Tour , David Silva and Sergio AgA?ero — could be crucial as City compete on all four fronts, and if he is able to get the best out of them, there is every chance that he will end his time at the Etihad on a high.