Manchester City will be aiming to resume their 2019/20 Premier League campaign with a win when they face off against Arsenal on Wednesday night.
After a three-month long hiatus, Premier League finally returns to action this week. Aston Villa and Sheffield United will kick things off on Wednesday, before we are treated with a blockbuster of a clash as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City face off against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium later in the evening.
Manchester City haven’t been able to defend their Premier League crown, as they find themselves 25 points behind leaders Liverpool in the standings. With the Reds needing just two more wins to be confirmed as champions, all Guardiola & co. can do is battle for pride and build momentum for the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League run.
Their form prior to the suspension of football was hardly something to write home about. The Sky Blues had won just three of their last six fixtures in the Premier League, with their most recent game seeing them get beat 2-0 at the hands of rivals Manchester United. Guardiola will be hoping to put that behind and restart things with a win on Wednesday.
Arsenal have had an eventful campaign – but not always for the right reasons. The sacking of Unai Emery towards the end of the last year saw the Gunners poach City for Guardiola’s former No. 2, Mikel Arteta. Since taking over the reins though, the Spaniard has done a decent enough job, having managed to stay unbeaten in the league since the turn of the year (W4 D4).
The stoppage came at the worst time for Arsenal as they had started to string together a run of good results, having bagged three consecutive wins in the league, the latest being a 1-0 triumph over West Ham United. With momentum halted, Arteta & co. will have to start all over again as they look to move up the table from their current ninth place in the table and stand a chance to finish in the top six.
The reverse fixture, played in December last year, saw City thrash Arsenal 3-0 courtesy a Raheem Sterling goal and a Kevin De Bruyne double. As we gear up for the clash between the master and the apprentice at the Etihad, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
Injuries, especially in the defensive department, had been a problem for Guardiola for large parts of the season. However, he will now be able to call upon key centre-back Aymeric Laporte, who has put all his fitness issues behind and is ready to step up.
The return of Leroy Sane from a lengthy injury layoff is another major boost for the Sky Blues, while Kevin De Bruyne, who had missed the last game against Manchester United, is also fit and raring to go. Guardiola is expected to set his team up in his trademark 4-3-3, with Ederson Moraes guarding the goal.
Fernandinho has been largely used as a centre-half by Guardiola this season and we might continue to see the same against Arsenal, with the Brazilian getting the nod over both John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. The fit-again Laporte should partner the veteran. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy are the automatic picks in the full-back slots.
Rodri, who has impressed since joining the club last summer, ought to line up as the deepest of the three midfielders for City and look to thwart Arsenal’s attempt at building up play. The creativity and drive will come from De Bruyne, who has been outstanding this term, while Ilkay Gundogan could get the nod over David Silva and Bernardo Silva for the third slot in the middle.
Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling have had good seasons so far and should be the preferred duo on the flanks, with Sane likely to be eased into action. All-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero should be the man spearheading the City attack, with Gabriel Jesus for backup.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Mendy; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling
Arsenal also do not have a lot of injury issues heading into the game on Wednesday. Calum Chambers is the only player missing with a knee injury. Cedric has been seen training with a mask, after suffering a facial injury during training, but should be available. Lucas Torreira has also recovered from his injury problem and was seen training with the rest of the group.
In another major boost, summer signing Kieran Tierney is also fully fit ahead of the resumption of the Premier League. It will be interesting to see how Arteta sets his team up, given his deep knowledge of Guardiola’s tactics. We expect Arsenal to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation on Wednesday with Bernd Leno in goal.
David Luiz has been an ever-present at the back under Arteta and is likely to continue, despite his howler in a friendly encounter last week. Pablo Mari started alongside him in the Gunners’ last two fixtures, but Shkodran Mustafi could get the nod here, having improved drastically since the Spaniard took over the reins. Hector Bellerin and Tierney should slot in as the full-backs.
On-loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos should start as one of the two midfielders in the double pivot. Partnering him should be Granit Xhaka, who is another player who has shown improvements under Arteta. Joe Willock could get the nod over Mesut Ozil in the No.10 role, owing to his energy and work-rate off the ball, which will be key against City.
Nicolas Pepe should be the automatic pick on the right flank ahead of Reiss Nelson. The remaining two positions however, pose a selection headache for Arteta with Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah all vying for a starting berth. The experienced duo of Auba and Lacazette should get the nod though.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Pepe, Willock, Aubameyang; Lacazette
- Manchester City have won their last six matches against Arsenal in all competitions. It is their best ever winning run against the North London outfit.
- Arsenal have lost their last five league games against Manchester City. They last had a longer losing run against an opponent between 1974 and 1977 against Ipswich Town (seven games in a row).
- Manchester City have already lost seven Premier League matches this season – one more than they had in their last two campaigns combined.
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven away league games (W1 D6). Each of the last five matches have ended in stalemates. The Gunners have never drawn six consecutive league games on the road.
- Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has scored 10 goals in his last 12 appearanes against Arsenal in all competitions. He scored a hat-trick in this exact fixture last season.
Player to Watch
For months now, Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future has been dominating the headlines. The Gabonese striker is entering the final year of his contract and looks close to an exit, with a host of clubs across Europe vying for his signature.
However, now it is time for the 30-year-old to put the speculations aside and focus on getting Arsenal into the top six. Aubameyang is the second-highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season, with 17 goals so far. The incentive to eclipse Jamie Vardy and win a consecutive Golden Boot should be an added motivation for the Gunners’ skipper.
Aubameyang has scored 49 goals in 75 Premier League games so far. Should he reach the fifty-goal milestone on Wednesday, he will be the sixth-fastest to do so, behind Andy Cole (65), Alan Shearer (66), Ruud van Nistelrooy (68), Fernando Torres and Mo Salah (both 72).
Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal
The first big game after the return of the Premier League sees the apprentice Mikel Arteta being pitted against the master in Pep Guardiola. Manchester City hadn’t been in the best of form prior to the stoppage, whereas Arsenal were starting to build some vital momentum to push for a top six finish.
However, it will be a fresh start on Wednesday night, with a lot likely to depend on how sharp the players are after such a long layoff. Even so, a full-strength Manchester City side should be able to get the better of an Arsenal team, that despite showing improvements, remains vulnerable at the back. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Guardiola & co.