The first major silverware of the English season will be awarded when Arsenal and Manchester City meet in the final of the Carabao Cup at Wembley on Sunday (16:30 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
The encounter is a repeat of last year’s FA Cup final, in which Arsenal triumphed thanks to an extra-time winner from the now departed Alexis Sanchez. Man City took the lead through Sergio Aguero, only for Nacho Monreal to equalise and take the game into extra time.
It was the third time Arsenal had lifted the FA Cup in the last four seasons, and although their participation in that competition ended early this time around, they were nevertheless able to continue their impressive recent record in domestic knockout competitions by progressing to the Carabao Cup final after defeating Chelsea in the two-legged semi-final.
Given how much they have struggled against fellow top-six sides in league action in recent times, it is surprising just how well they’ve performed against them in cup competitions. Arsenal have won just three of their last 18 league matches against such teams, including just one out of eight this season, but have nevertheless eliminated Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Man City from the FA Cup over the course of the last four years.
Arsene Wenger’s side may not currently be capable of competing right at the sharp end of the Premier League, while recent Champions League campaigns have all ended in defeat in the first knockout round, but it seems they still have enough quality to defeat other strong domestic teams in one-off matches if things go their way.
Arsenal somewhat equalised the disadvantage of playing a European tie just three days before the final by building up a sufficient cushion in the first leg of their Europa League, round-of-32 encounter with Ostersunds to allow Wenger to rest players in Thursday’s 1-2 defeat. Aaron Ramsey is his main injury doubt for Sunday’s showpiece. Mesut Ozil is expected to return, while January signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to start.
Man City have enjoyed a very different season to their opponents on Sunday. While it looks like Arsenal will miss out on a top-four finish for a second consecutive season, City enjoy a commanding lead atop the Premier League table and are very strongly placed to make it through to the last eight of the Champions League following a 4-0 win away to Basel in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie.
Indeed, Pep Guardiola’s side had a quadruple within their sights prior to their shock defeat to League One side Wigan in the FA Cup on Monday. City dominated the shot count despite playing half the match with 10 men following Fabian Delph’s dismissal on the stroke of half time, but a fair number of their efforts were from relatively non-threatening areas, while the few chances Wigan did create were of high quality. Will Grigg scored their late winner.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Guardiola and his team, and some of that seemed to boil over in the fracas that followed Delph’s dismissal. It was a match and result that had shades of some of City’s games last season, in what was the first trophy-less campaign of Guardiola’s top-flight coaching career. Man City will almost certainly win this season’s Premier League title, but victory on Sunday would nevertheless provide Guardiola with his first silverware in English football.
The League Cup has been kind to City in recent years, providing both the first and the last trophies of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign in the 2014 and 2016 finals. Given just how dominant they have been this season – winning 36 of their 42 matches in all competitions – they are rightfully the Carabao Cup favourites with the top UK sports betting sites again this weekend, despite Arsenal’s recent cup pedigree.
It will probably be a closer encounter in terms of the balance of play than City’s comfortable 3-1 win in the league in November, but Arsenal’s over-performance in cup competitions has to end somewhere, and Wembley on Sunday seems as good a place as any.