Sports and streaks go hand in hand. Arsenal are, as we all know, a club synonymous with some impressive streaks: The Invincibles unbeaten season, the incredible 49 match unbeaten run across two seasons, Arsene Wenger’s 20 straight seasons of Champions League qualification, and 22 consecutive St. Totteringham’s Day celebrations at season’s end.
Unfortunately, Arsenal have been on the end of some ugly streaks as well, most recently the ugly two month winless run, their worst run of form in Premier League history. Thankfully, the nightmare ended when Arsenal came back to beat West Ham 3-1 on Monday to break their poor cycle. This is all to say that, good or bad, streaks are made to be broken, which is why Sunday’s match against Manchester City is so vitally important for the Gunners.
It has been nearly four years since Arsenal last defeated Manchester City in league play, last occurring on December 21st, 2015, which saw the Gunners best the Cityzens 2-1 thanks to goals from the now-departed Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Since then, Arsenal have lost five and drawn twice, punctuated by four consecutive losses over the last two seasons, the only club in the Premier League who Arsenal have such a poor run of form against.
If there was ever a time for Arsenal to end their ugly streak against City, it would be Sunday. After two consecutive title-winning campaigns, City are finally starting to look mortal. In the Premier League, City are coming off of a deflating loss at home to hated rivals Manchester United and have won only twice in their last five league matches. They look far from the juggernauts that dominated the league in recent years, but their quality is still unquestionable.
Arsenal, meanwhile, finally won their first league match since October. Sure, the Gunners remain shambolic in defense and underwhelming in the midfield, but their attacking quality can still punish teams, as they showed in a brilliant second half display. The win lifted a collective weight off of the shoulders of the players by the final whistle - they were smiling, cheering, and noticeably relieved. If the Gunners can recapture that form and maintain it, perhaps they can turn a corner and make up for the ground they lost in October and November.
Let’s not sugarcoat it, though - Sunday’s match is going to be tough sledding for the Gunners. Even if they play like they did in the second half of the West Ham match, Man City is going to be the toughest test that Arsenal have faced in quite some time. If you are using statistics as your preferred metric, Arsenal will almost certainly lose this match - one nine-minute span of adept play does not erase two months of bumbling anarchy. However, if you abide by the notions of intangibles like “momentum,” then Sunday might be a perfect chance to pip a point or maybe three off of City.
Lineup wise, it is hard to think that there exists a better lineup than what Arsenal had on the pitch late in the second half. The the new attacking line of MAP (Martinelli, Aubameyang, Pepe) should be Freddie’s go-to (Sorry, Lacazette), and despite an injury scare, Pepe should be in line to face City. With Xhaka out after suffering a concussion on Monday, the midfield trio of Ozil, Torreira, and Guendouzi should slot into the middle pretty easily. Dani Ceballos is still a match or two away from rejoining the squad.
The defense is once again back to being perilously thin. Kieran Tierney is now out for three months and Hector Bellerin is sidelined with a hamstring tweak, which means Arsenal will need to lean on Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the outside. Callum Chambers made a considerable argument for being one of Arsenal’s starting center backs after a composed display on Monday, while Freddie now has to pick between old and not very good Sokratis and...old and not very good David Luiz at the other CB spot. Fun times!
City will be without several of their first team stalwarts as Sergio Aguero and John Stones have been ruled out of Sunday’s match after suffering recent injuries, joining Leroy Sane (ACL) and Aymeric Laporte (knee) who have been out with long-term injuries, while David Silva and Ederson could both return against the Gunners.
Freddie and co are going to have to put in a masterful performance to take all three points off of City. Recent history isn’t on Arsenal’s side, but Monday’s performance could have signaled the turning over of a new leaf. If they can recreate Monday’s second half over the course of a full 90 minutes, we might just see the end of one streak and the beginning of another.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Manchester City
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
WHEN: 11:30am EST/8:30am PST/4:30pm BST
HOW TO WATCH: NBC Sports. Streaming on NBCSports.com
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