With any hopes of catching league leaders Liverpool surely over, following defeat in the Manchester derby last weekend, City may turn their attention to securing top-four qualification. They can start to right the ship, by exploiting a vulnerable Arsenal side in desperate search for an important win themselves.
It’s been some time since City fans’ sole concern in the Premier League was Champions League qualification, but with a crushing loss to Manchester United, even the most optimistic Blue would concede that the league title is out of reach. While Manchester City’s place in the top-four is safe for now, anything but a win on Sunday could see a number of teams close that gap to an uneasy six or seven points.
Pep’s men wrapped up a successful Champions League group stage on Wednesday night, by toppling Dinamo Zagreb 4-1. After falling behind, City grabbed ahold of the match, nabbed a crucial goal late in the half, and never looked back. Gabriel Jesus returned to goal scoring form, bagging a hat-trick, and youngster Phil Foden impressed once again. With a critical clash at the Emirates this weekend, the Blues are hoping to carry their form from Zagreb to North London.
As for The Gunners, they’re coming off the back of a knockout stage-qualifying performance in the Europa League, having clawed back from 0-2 to earn a draw against Standard Liege. In the Premier League, Arsenal are once again amidst managerial turmoil, having sacked Unai Emery and instated Freddie Ljungberg as interim manager. Since taking the reigns, Ljungberg has just one win – Arsenal’s first in the Premier League since October – which his side earned last weekend against West Ham. Needless to say, all eyes in North London are on Manchester City’s man, Mikel Arteta, making this fixture all the more intriguing off the pitch.
On the injury front, Oleksandr Zinchenko will be available after returning to action on Wednesday, while John Stones and Sergio Aguero have been ruled out through injury. Potentially paving the way for a rare Phil Foden start, David Silva is a “doubt” having picked up a knock to his knee. Long term absentees Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte continue their returns to fitness.
For Arsenal, the injuries are starting to pile up. Hector Bellerin is a major doubt, having picked up a hamstring problem in training prior to the clash with West Ham and missed the midweek bout with Standard Liege. Elsewhere, Kieran Tierney looks to be out for some months, following a dislocated shoulder sustained during the match at the London Stadium. In addition, it’s possible City won’t have to cope with Nicolas Pepe, who missed out on Arsenal’s midweek match due to a bruised knee. Rob Holding and Dani Ceballos are also out.
CITY XTRA PREDICTED XI
Ederson looks to be over whatever illness kept him out of the midweek clash in Zagreb, and that should see him return to his usual starting role. Joao Cancelo looked lively at times on Wednesday night, but I suspect we’ll see Kyle Walker assume the right back role, after a rather spirited performance against Manchester United, despite the result. In central defence, I predict we’ll see a pairing of Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi, both of whom will be eager to prove their worth against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng and Nicolas Pepe – who will have their sights set on exploiting City’s defence. Rounding off the back four will be Oleksandr Zinchenko, who returns from injury to solidify the left back position amidst a handful of suspect performances from Angelino and Benjamin Mendy.
In the middle of the pitch, Rodri looks set to retain his starting spot in defensive midfield. Likewise, Kevin De Bruyne seems destined to return to Pep’s midfield trio, having looked bright in the last few outings, albeit still a touch off his best. With David Silva a doubt for Sunday’s clash, Pep will have a tough task picking the third midfielder. On the one hand, Ilkay Gundogan is a reliable performer who won’t be bothered by a rowdy Emirates atmosphere. The German veteran has been more or less himself this season, churning out solid, if not spectacular outings when given the start. On the other hand, Phil Foden was brilliant against Zagreb on Wednesday, un-phased by a crowd of Croatian supporters who were quite lively in their own right, particularly after Zagreb took an early lead. Guardiola has given Foden a chance in crucial games before, and I’ll predict he does the same on Sunday. Phil Foden will start in midfield.
Up front, I suspect we’ll see a familiar trio. Riyad Mahrez will start over Bernardo Silva on the right flank, with the latter struggling for consistency this season. Bernardo will be crucial to City’s success in all competitions this campaign, but it’s not quite happening for him at the moment. On the other side of the pitch, we’ll see Raheem Sterling get another start after ceding the left wing role to the aforementioned Bernardo on Wednesday night. Lastly, with Aguero still out through injury, Gabriel Jesus will start up front, looking to build off a hat trick performance in Croatia.
Substitutes: Bravo, E. Garcia, Gundogan, Cancelo, Bernardo, Angelino, Mendy.
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