As Leicester march on at the top, second-placed Arsenal aim to extend their one-point margin over Manchester City in their Premier League match on Monday night (8pm, live on Sky Sports 1).
Eleven months ago, Arsenal suggested they had taken a step closer to becoming a title-challenging side by defeating Manuel Pellegrini’s side 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. That display in January showed a side of Arsenal that has not always been evident in recent years. The Gunners ceded possession, sat deep and hit City on the counter-attack, deservedly leaving the northwest with all three points. Arsene Wenger, often labelled an idealist, demonstrated the type of pragmatic edge that is required to win a league championship.
Given that Monday night’s encounter takes place at the Emirates rather than the Etihad, it is likely that Arsenal will play proactively and on the front foot. They are unbeaten in the Premier League at home since the opening day of the campaign, when West Ham United upset the odds to leave with a 2-0 victory, and have lost only three times in the top flight at their own ground since August 2013.
This will be no easy task for Man City, then, particularly as Arsenal find themselves in good form. An injury crisis that robbed them of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Alexis Sanchez among others threatened to impact on results as supporters grew frustrated of what seems to be an annual occurrence. However Wenger’s men have had a rather positive December so far: domestic opponents Sunderland and Aston Villa were overcome as expected, and Arsenal also sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 3-0 win over Olympiacos in Greece.
Man City, conversely, have had a relatively difficult time of late. They too advanced to the knockout stage of Europe’s primary club competition in impressive fashion, but the two-time Premier League champions have dropped 10 points in their last seven outings in the top flight.
The 2-1 win over Swansea City last time out was only secured with a rather fortunate injury-time winner. The week before that saw City well beaten at Stoke, while they have also lost to Liverpool and drawn with Aston Villa since the start of last month. The 2013/14 champions remain in touch at the top of the table, nevertheless, and three points on Monday would guarantee them the spot at the summit on Christmas Day if Leicester are beaten by Everton.
Sergio Aguero’s (pictured) likely return to the match-day squad – and, potentially, the starting XI – is a major boost for the visitors. Aguero’s season has been disrupted by injury to date, but he remains the most lethal striker in the country when fit. His pace in behind would almost certainly cause Arsenal’s high defensive line plenty of problems.
Vincent Kompany, another who has been sorely missed, could also be back for this crunch clash, although the latest reports indicate that he remains a doubt. Man City have conceded 17 goals in the league so far this term – only the seventh best tally in the division behind the likes of Stoke and Crystal Palace – and their record at the back without the Belgium international makes for grim reading.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are hoping that Alexis Sanchez recovers in time to play some part in the game, but it is highly unlikely that he will be included in Wenger’s starting line-up. Cazorla, Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are definitely out until the New Year, but Mikel Arteta may be available again after a calf strain.
Arsenal have not been at their best in recent weeks, but they have developed a knack for winning games even when performances are not quite up to scratch. After a flattering 3-1 win over Sunderland a fortnight ago, they were much improved against Villa last week, with Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud all in fine form.
Man City, though, remain an extremely tough proposition to face; with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and David Silva in their attacking ranks, they are always a threat going forward. A score draw is thus perhaps the most likely outcome.