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Arsenal vs Manchester City preview: The Battle for First

The Gunners search for daylight as City come to town

Manchester City v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Not to be hyperbolic, but Arsenal FC’s Premier League match against Manchester City on Wednesday may very well be the most important match of the the Mikel Arteta era.

Some might roll their eyes while others nod in solemn agreement. Arteta has, after all, lead the Gunners to an FA Cup title already. He has bested direct rivals with increasing regularity. He has even beaten his former mentor-turned-rival Pep Guardiola, albeit in an FA Cup semifinal and not in the league. This is far from the deciding match of the season, but it has all of the weight of one.

A match between the two clubs has rarely had the level of implications that Wednesday’s match will have. There is no doubt that this match is THE match of the season to date. First versus second. Master versus apprentice. The reigning champions versus the up-and-coming league leaders. It has everything you want and more (including a looming investigation for financial tomfoolery).

If you asked me three weeks ago, I’d have probably told you with more confidence and assertion that Arsenal will win this match. After 19 matches, the Gunners had set the league ablaze with their historic haul of 50 points. They did the double on Spurs, put lesser teams to the sword with alarming regularity, and bested Manchester United at the death in a match for the ages.

Arsenal have looked far less potent and complete since the transfer window closed. Gabriel Jesus’ absence since December had largely been mitigated by the play of Eddie Nketiah and the production of players like Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard. But since the victory over United, Arsenal’s production has waned drastically, with the Gunners mustering one goal from three matches, losing two of the three and drawing the third. Teams have begun honing in on Arsenal’s wingers, much to the frustration of Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.

It’s a rare dry spell and dip in form for a side that has been dominant for the last five months, and just happens to coincide with the match against City at the Emirates. The timing isn’t great. But if there was ever a time for the Gunners to find their shooting boots, there’s no better time than such a massive match.

Many didn’t expect Arsenal to be in this position when the season started, but now that they are here, at the top of the league, it’s become exceedingly difficult to entertain the idea of letting go of that position. The once-comfortable cushion has dwindled to three, meaning the victor of Wednesday night’s match gains three points and all of the momentum.

The long and short of this match is that Arsenal cannot afford to lose. Full stop. Nothing else matters. A draw would just delay what feels like an inevitable City surge. The players need the crowd to back them from first to last whistle, which they will. But, more importantly, they need to back each other, trust in the manager, and play the way they have all season.

The Gunners nearly took three points from City at home last season. They outplayed the eventual champions in the first half, but were ultimately undone by a dodgy penalty call, a red card, and a last-gasp Rodri winner. Arsenal are more than capable of being the victors in this tie and are a better team than they were last year.

For discussions about line-ups and score predictions, please check out Nathan’s post.

WHO: Arsenal vs Manchester City
WHEN: Wednesday, February 15th, 2:30pm EST/11:30am PST/7:30pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming on Peacock

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