For the third straight time Arsenal have dropped points and severely missed key players. None looms larger than William Saliba’s absence in the past three matches. Arsenal are now five points clear of Manchester City having played two additional games. They will need a draw or a win midweek to have a chance at the Premier League, especially with the more difficult run to close out the league. While we have reached St. Totteringham’s Day, but that can be celebrated at the end of the season - there are more important matters to focus on.
A fairly straightforward win over Sheffield United in the FA Cup semifinals with their second-string squad sees Manchester City still on course for a potential treble. They have lost a match across all competitions since February 5th, 1-0 to Tottenham. Since then they have scored an insane 48 goals in their last 16 matches. Much like their new 375,000-a-week striker, Manchester City a simply a machine. For Arsenal to have a shot at winning the Premier League they will need to do the near impossible, win at the Etihad. A stadium where they’ve lost just once this season.
For the third time in short order, we talked with Saul Garcia from SB Nation’s Bitter & Blue, focusing on the Premier League title race, the Champions League, and the summer.
TSF: Coming into the season you likely expected City to be favorites for the league. But which teams did you expect to give them the most trouble as the season progressed, and did you anticipate that the title would still be at play this late in the year?
B&B: I expected 2-3 teams to challenge, on our socials we did mention Arsenal as a threat, but they were behind Liverpool and Chelsea who are underperforming a big amount. I did expect a title race, I just expected it with Liverpool instead of Arsenal. That is wholly credit to the job Mikel Arteta has done.
TSF: On top of the Premier League schedule, City has a massive semi-final clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League and the FA Cup Final. If the fans had to pick one, it’s to focus on the Champions League correct, because it’s long been Pep’s goal?
B&B: I’m not so sure about that, Pep Guardiola is in the business of winning it all sure, but he and many managers have said the league is always priority number one. For the reason that it proves your methods are working given it’s a 38-match schedule and not a knockout tournament. That being said, the UCL has eluded him here and despite that he is still for my money already the greatest manager of all time, so I don’t think it's necessarily a must-have. Winning all three would be the apex here as well. Why not us, right?
TSF: Pep signed a two-year contract extension to keep him at the club through 2025. If they win the Champions League this season, and potentially a treble, could you see him using that as the time to step away from managing or will he continue on regardless?
B&B: He will continue regardless, Pep is almost giddy about the team's future potential, and given Erling Haaland tied his new deal to him staying and the potential arrival of Jude Bellingham also hinges on working with him, Pep is here for the long haul. I honestly would not be surprised if he stays until 2027 or later.
TSF: Manchester City has double the annual payroll of Arsenal, but (like everyone) was significantly outspent on transfer fees by Chelsea. This summer do you expect the club to go big to sign Jude Bellingham, and regardless of that potential move, what changes could we see to an already incredibly deep squad?
B&B: I only expect one or two signings, one is almost assuredly Jude Bellingham and the other will be either a pacy winger or a multifaceted fullback. Contrary to popular belief, City has a thin squad number-wise as it only has 18 senior players. Given that and potential sales, Pep will likely have few if any requests, other than the ones mentioned. He likes to work with a smaller squad and these two new signings would fit that.
TSF: Give us your predicted starting XI for the big match and a final scoreline.
B&B: Ederson-Stones-Dias-Akanji-Ake-Gundogan-Rodri-De Bruyne-Bernardo-Haaland-Grealish
Prediction: City 4-2 Arsenal
Thanks again to Saul Garcia (once again) and Bitter and Blue for talking with us.