Had you told anyone that Manchester City and Arsenal were meeting in a late season match which could very decide the Premier League title, the majority would have believed that City were having a down season.
Instead, it’s Arsenal who have played above expectations and head to the Etihad Stadium five points ahead of Manchester City but with contrasting vibes ahead of the match.
Manchester City are coming off a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, booking a spot in the FA Cup final against Manchester United. The game prior, City drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich, advancing to the Champions League semifinals where they will play Real Madrid.
The Gunners, on the other hand, are coming three straight games dropping points. They blew a two-goal lead against Liverpool, a two-goal lead against West Ham and had to come from behind to manage a 3-3 draw at home against Southampton.
Manchester City has already played Arsenal twice this season with the Cityzens winning 1-0 in the FA Cup and 3-1 in the Premier League at the Emirates.
Despite it feeling like things are collapsing around them, Arsenal know they still control their fate and a win over City would go a long way to helping them win their first league title since the Arsene Wenger era.
“It will be a big game,” Gabriel Jesus said. “Even if we don’t drop the points we dropped in the last games, nothing changes — it’s a final.
“Each game is a final, we have to face them like a final. We lost something that is making things difficult for ourselves, but we will be back.
“Then, obviously, everyone is together again and that’s it. We have another final to play. This is the most important game of the season for us.”
With two games in hand, a win for City would cut the lead to two, meaning if they were to win their remaining game in hand, they would be a point in front of Arsenal. Like Arsenal, City have their fate in their hands.
“We have had many months to arrive at this part of the league to have the chance in our hands,” Pep Guardiola said. “Of course, they have it in their hands, too, because if they win it depends on them. The destiny will be in their hands.
“But if we win, definitely the destiny will be in our hands. Then we still have seven games left.”
City seem to be getting into gear at the right time of the season. They were inconsistent to start but have been growing into their own. Jack Grealish has finally adjusted, Kevin De Bruyne is, well, Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland is looking more and more like the final piece of the puzzle.
Given the form both these teams are in, the pressure feels like its squarely on Arsenal. Their string of draws has allowed City to get back into the title race and without William Saliba, their best defender, and perhaps Granit Xhaka, they’re swimming upstream so to speak.
Of course, there’s always the possibility they end up drawing, making everything moot for the time being. But with the momentum Manchester City are carrying, they’re going to go out and try to win this game. Arsenal will do the same but are facing unfamiliar territory.
All signs point to a Manchester City win and taking everything into consideration, it certainly seems like a safe bet.