Arsenal will face their biggest test of the season on Sunday.


Arsenal face their biggest test of the season on Sunday. Mikel Arteta’s team are currently sat at the top of the Premier League table, but this weekend’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City will be the true test of their title credentials. It could be the match that makes or breaks their season.

Last season, two defeats to City home and away ultimately cost Arsenal the title. The Gunners finished five points behind Pep Guardiola’s team. Had they won both matches against Manchester City, Arsenal would have got their hands on the Premier League trophy for the first time since the days of Arsene Wenger.

This season, though, Arsenal have already beaten City, winning 1-0 against the Treble winners in October thanks to a late goal from Gabriel Martinelli. That victory broke a mental duck for the Gunners, who until then, had suffered from an apparent inferiority complex in matches against Guardiola’s side.

Arsenal might be five points worse off after 28 fixtures than they were at the same stage last season, but most would agree they are stronger now than they were 12 months ago. The Gunners have a stronger squad after the addition of Declan Rice and Kai Havertz who have both become key figures at the Emirates Stadium. That is one factor.

Another factor is that Arsenal look mentally stronger than they were last season. They have bounced back more than once from a dip in form, most notably went three games without a win over Christmas. Since then, though, the Gunners have won every single league match they have played.

Not everything has improved this season over last. In open play, for example, Arsenal have allowed their creativity numbers to drop quite significantly. They are relying on their counter-pressing and set piece prowess to create opportunities and score goals. Arteta would surely like more invention from his team’s general possession play.

Questions have been asked of the options Arsenal have in the centre forward position. Gabriel Jesus offers the Gunners a lot in terms of his all-round play, but the Brazilian isn’t much of a goalscorer in the Premier League where he has found the back of the net just four times in 20 games this season.

Havertz has performed admirably as a ‘false nine’ at points over the course of the campaign, but the German international is most effective when he can make late runs into the opposition penalty area from midfield. Leandro Trossard is another player who has filled in as a centre forward this season, but the Belgian is a winger by trade.

Nonetheless, Arsenal are heading into the final 10 fixtures of the Premier League season in good shape. A win – or even a draw – away to Manchester City on Sunday would set them up perfectly for the final stretch. It would be the most significant moment in their campaign so far. The symbolism of it would be undeniable.

There is a lot of overlap between the way Arsenal and Manchester City play. Both teams like to have possession and play with a lot of intensity on and off the ball. Arteta, of course, served as Guardiola’s assistant at City and so it’s natural that the Spaniard has borrowed a lot of ideas from his former mentor.

In a number of different ways, though, Arteta has built on Guardiola’s ideology to forge something of his own. Sunday is Arsenal’s big opportunity to finally surpass the rival they have spent much of the last two seasons chasing. It could prove to be the moment they move closer to the Premier League title than ever before under Arteta.

Author: Mark Hayes