28 Feb Arsenal v Man City – talking points
Manchester City travel to face Arsenal in the Premier League on Thursday just four days after thrashing the Gunners in the Carabao Cup final.
Sitting 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side will also go into this meeting as heavy favourites.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the main talking points ahead of the Emirates Stadium clash.
The manner of the Wembley defeat has seen fresh criticism aimed at Arsene Wenger – who was forced to bat away questions over his future. In this rearranged league meeting, originally due for last weekend before both sides made it to the Carabao Cup final, Wenger and his players have a chance to show than can mix it with the best team in the country.
More agony for Arsene?
The flip-side of that, of course, is that another galling loss at the hands of Guardiola’s swashbuckling title-favourites would see even more fans turn on Wenger. The number of empty seats in the Arsenal end at full-time on Sunday spoke volumes, with one leading fans’ group telling Press Association Sport earlier in the week that there was an “air of inevitability” of a defeat among those supporters inside Wembley. It is hard to see why that pessimism would change in less than a week and defeat this time around could have far-reaching consequences.
Top four hopes
Arsenal fell out of top four last season for the first time since Wenger took charge of a full campaign following his arrival as Arsenal boss in 1996. That meant a rare season out of the Champions League, something which the Frenchman was challenged to rectify upon signing a new two-year contract last summer.
Despite that, Arsenal languish sixth in the table and are 10 points adrift of north London rivals Tottenham – who currently occupy the fourth, and last, Champions League qualification spot in the table. It is becoming increasingly obvious, therefore, that a return to the Champions League must be achieved by winning the Europa League in the same manner as Manchester United did last season – and defeat on Thursday will only make that scenario more likely.
Premier League title in City’s reach
The Carabao Cup success saw former Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss Guardiola lift his first trophy in England. A second is fully expected to arrive with Premier League glory, with Manchester City blowing away all in front of them this season. They hold a 13-point lead over second-placed Manchester United and this is their game in hand so victory will only reaffirm their position as winners.
Whether you are someone who doubts Mesut Ozil’s ability to shine on the biggest stages or not, the Arsenal star needs to show that he can take a game by the scruff of the neck. While Alexis Sanchez left for Manchester United, Ozil signed a new deal at Arsenal – with a huge pay-rise – but still manages to go missing. He was again on the periphery in Sunday’s cup final and if he can show his better side on Thursday to help Arsenal out of trouble.