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Manchester City-Arsenal Preview
Between Manchester City's threadbare defence and Arsenal's sub-standard one, there figure to be plenty of goals scored at the Emirates on Sunday when the two-time Premier League champions try to avoid falling further behind Liverpool and leave north London with a win over the Gunners.
Pep Guardiola's side are a distant third to the Merseysiders, 14 points adrift as the halfway point of the season approaches. The gap could reach 17 by kickoff, and as many have taken note of the chasm, Guardiola himself became a subplot this weekend when it was revealed he has a break clause in his contract for after this season.
The Spaniard, who signed a new deal through 2021 last year with the club and readying for his 200th match with the club, has dropped hints he would like to stay long-term at Manchester City, but such an out is consistent with his coaching track record. Guardiola took what was essentially a season-long sabbatical after his four seasons with Barcelona prior to taking over at Bayern Munich in 2013.
Guardiola, who has posted a staggering 143-29-27 record on the blue side of Manchester, has been frustrated throughout the season to date, with City off their form of their title-winning campaigns and also dealing with what has seemed to be a relentless spate of injuries. He will have a second-choice pairing in central defence for this match as John Stones was the latest to join the injured list for an extended period of time.
Stones' absence, along with the long-term absentee Aymeric Laporte, has forced Guardiola into using Nicolas Otamendi and usual defensive midfielder Fernandinho in tandem. Right back Kyle Walker conceivably could shift to central defence since he was part of England's back three during the 2018 World Cup, and Guardiola does have options wide in Joao Cancelo and Angelino.
Those injuries have contributed to Manchester City failing to record a clean sheet over their last 10 matches in all competitions since beating Aston Villa 3-0 on Oct. 26.
City will again be without top centre-forward Sergio Aguero, but that absence may not be as felt given Gabriel Jesus' current run of form. The Brasil international has five goals in his last three matches after striking for a hat trick in City's 4-1 Champions League victory at Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
"It's special," Jesus told City's official website after his second career hat trick and has scored all 10 of his goals this term on the road. "When I was young, I'd think about the Champions League - I wanted to play, I wanted to score, I wanted the ball. For me it's a very special moment when I score goals and a hat-trick as well.
"I have to do my job. My job is to score goals and help the team, without the ball and with the ball. Last month, I was not scoring and I feel so bad because I have to score and help my teammates. Now the goals are coming so I'm so happy but I cannot stop - I have to keep scoring."
The match was a dead rubber for City, who had already claimed the top spot in Group C. Their potential opponents for spring's knockout round of 16 are Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, and Lyon. But it was also a needed bounce back after losing the Manchester derby at Old Trafford last weekend to United.
Guardiola's final injury worry revolves around playmaker David Silva, who sat out Wednesday with a knock picked up versus United and is in a late race to be match-fit.
Arsenal (5-7-4) are ninth in the table on 22 points, but their inconsistencies have been so rife that table-topping Liverpool have more than doubled their points through 16 matches. Freddie Ljungberg continues to serve as caretaker manager as the rumour mill continues to churn out potential successors to the sacked Unai Emery.
One name who came off the list this week was Vitor Pereira, who opted to stay at Shanghai SIPG. Carlo Ancelotti continues to be a candidate, but he has been linked more closely to Everton than Arsenal following his surprising sacking at Napoli earlier this week.
The most intriguing name, though, continues to be former midfielder and current City assistant Mikael Arteta. He was interviewed after Arsene Wenger retired in 2018 but opted to stay with Guardiola, and even his current boss thinks it is possible his potential protégé is at a crossroads of sorts.
"You can be a 45-year-old and believe you're not ready [to become a manager] and 35 and believe you're ready. Only he knows," Guardiola told Metro.co.uk. "I've spoken about the situation a few weeks ago, there's no more to add. I said two weeks ago, he's got two weeks more experience, so he's ready."
This will be Ljungberg's fourth match in charge, with the Gunners having split the first three as part of a dismal run in which they have one win in 11 matches (1-7-3) in all competitions. Like City, they had a dead rubber in continental play, scrambling for a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege on Thursday to complete their Europa League group stage.
Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka scored three minutes apart in the final quarter-hour for Arsenal, who finished atop Group F and will be seeded for the knockout round of 32 come spring. Ljungberg took heart from his team's fightback, hoping to use it as a springboard into Sunday's contest.
"It's a tough place to come and be 2-0 down, like you said, tremendous fans in my opinion, a great atmosphere and they showed that belief in how they can play football and their own quality," he told Arsenal's official website. "That shows good for us in the future, of course they need experience yes and they need to play but that heart and that fight and that belief was amazing to see from the sidelines. And maybe I should also mention the energy they do it with. They go and they go and they go and they don't stop."
Arsenal are as close to fourth as they are the drop - seven points from both - as they seek back-to-back league wins for the first time since opening the season with victories over Newcastle United and Burnley. The Gunners have gone 13 matches in all competitions without recording a shutout since edging Bournemouth 1-0 on Oct. 6.
Nicolas Pepe is a question mark after sitting out Thursday's draw with a bruised knee, and right back Hector Bellerin is also a doubt with a hamstring injury. Granit Xhaka remains sidelined with a concussion, and summer signing Kieran Tierney is out long-term with a dislocated shoulder.
City have won five on the bounce over Arsenal in all competitions, outscoring the Gunners 14-2, and cruised to a double last term with two-goal victories in both matches. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva scored goals in the corresponding fixture, while Aguero had a hat trick in the 3-1 win in February in the most recent matchup.
The Cityzens are 5-2-0 in their last seven league matchups versus Arsenal and 3-3-1 in their last seven visits to the Emirates.
Updated December 13, 2019