Just days after the Carabao Cup final, Arsenal will welcome Manchester City to the Emirates Stadium as they look to recover from their horror show at Wembley. It would take a brave person to back the Gunners to come out with a better result, but a much-improved performance will be expected by supporters as the pressure on Arsene Wenger continues to grow. There have been reports this week that his future could be up for debate at the end of the season and the mood music feels different this time. It has been evident that the club have needed a change of direction for a while and this summer could see it happen.
The home side are currently ten points behind the top four and a return to Champions League action via the league seems unlikely. They aren’t as good as the rest of the top six and their continual decline is a concern. It had been hoped that the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan would breathe fresh life into their season, but their signings haven’t had the desired effect. The same problems persist and a complete overhaul is needed in the summer if they are to salvage their status as a top club. They will want a reaction from the players after Sunday, but few supporters will expect one.
Manchester City will be looking to finish the Premier League season strongly and they now have momentum after lifting the first trophy of the Pep Guardiola era. It may not be seen as the most prestigious, but it is an important landmark and one that will whet the appetite for more. Although they are safely positioned at the top of the table, they will want to win as many of their remaining matches as possible and another opportunity to get one over on Arsenal will be one they want to take.
Arsenal have kept only two clean sheets in their last 15 matches across all competitions.
The most Premier League points gained in a single season is 95. This was achieved by Chelsea in 2004/5. Manchester City are currently 23 points away from that with 33 available.
The central midfield has been a problem for Arsenal for the last few years and on his day, Aaron Ramsey can look like a leading player in the position. They don’t come around often enough for him to be considered one of the best in the Premier League, but he will be important on Thursday as they welcome Manchester City to the Emirates Stadium. If the Gunners are to take anything from the game, they will need to compete in the midfield areas. They can’t afford to be as passive as they were at the weekend as it would mean another heavy defeat is inevitable. This season, the Welshman has averaged 1.6 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game, while his attacking contribution has been impressive. He has scored six times and got six assists, showing his improvement in the final third. The home side need an all-action performance from Ramsey and if he can deliver, their chances of avoiding defeat will increase significantly.
There are a number of players in contention for individual awards this season, but Kevin De Bruyne is the leading candidate to win the PFA Player of the Year award. He has been the standout player in the team that has run riot at the top of the division, with seven goals and 14 assists to his name. The Belgian international has been consistent and his influence has grown as the season has progressed. He has averaged 3.23 chances created and 2.84 attempted shots per ninety minutes, which emphasises his quality in the attacking half of the pitch. In addition to this, he has bought into the style of play that Guardiola has brought to the club and his work rate has been another impressive part to his game. De Bruyne currently averages 1.29 successful tackles per ninety minutes. His defensive improvement has meant that City can afford to play both he and David Silva in the same pitch without losing solidity at the back. Arsenal often leave a lot of space in central areas and if they do that on Thursday, the 26-year-old will get a lot of joy.
Nacho Monreal could miss out for the home side after being taken off during the cup final on Sunday. This could mean that Sead Kolasinac is given an opportunity to start. Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be available again after being cup-tied at the weekend.
Gabriel Jesus could be given his first start since his return from injury as Guardiola may choose to rest Sergio Aguero. Raheem Sterling is a doubt, while Fabian Delph remains suspended.
It is difficult to predict anything other than a Manchester City win on Thursday as they are a much better team than Arsenal. The Gunners have entered mediocrity under Arsene Wenger and they are now a long way from competing with the best teams in the league. It is one thing to sign high-profile players such as Aubameyang, but another to fit those players into a winning team and the Gunners’ boss is unable to do that. There is likely to be a reaction to the cup final humiliation, but it won’t be enough to take anything from the game.
Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City