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A crucial recent development colours Arsenal’s trip to the Etihad this Sunday, a clash that will have a big bearing on where this season’s title may ultimately reside.

It’s a development that some may consider to be subjective, not yet proven, but it passes the eye-test all the same.

It’s that the Gunners are no longer afraid of Manchester City.

Time was when they were, and that’s simply not up for debate. Last April, Mikel Arteta’s side travelled to the North-West five points clear of their title rivals, and even if three consecutive draws had dented their confidence going into the game, their meek offering had all the hallmarks of an inferiority complex. Arsenal looked consigned to lose from the opening whistle. They all-but-curled up in the foetal position and protected their vital organs throughout.

It’s a complex that grew over time, pretty much from Pep Guardiola’s arrival in England, and encompassed many occasions when they were outclassed by their superiors, losing to threes, and fours, along with a 5-0 deconstruction in 2021. Even when they brought their A-game they found themselves undone by cruel late strikes.

We can also throw in the abstract angle of Arteta and Guardiola’s pupil/mentor dynamic should we wish and claim that to be a factor.

All we know for sure is that across a six year period, betting on this fixture was fun. Easy.  You backed City to triumph – often convincingly – and Arsenal to unravel.

Almost without exception they were psychologically beaten from the get-go.

Bernardo Silva has been cautioned in five of his last eight starts versus Arsenal. Back him to receive a card this Sunday at 2.80

It is of course folly to place too much emphasis on a Community Shield victory, especially one secured via pens, but perhaps in hindsight last August’s drab-fest at Wembley was when things began to change. Getting the better of City over the course of 120 minutes and a shoot-out was a result wildly celebrated by the Arsenal contingent – leading to mockery from certain quarters – but that afternoon directly fed into a 1-0 win in the Premier League in the autumn, a statement performance if ever there was one.

Arsenal bossed all of the meaningful stats, creating the better chances, and when revisiting the match reports one word crops up on repeat. Finally, against City, the Gunners had showed their mettle.

Should they do so again on Sunday we’ve got quite the contest on our hands.

If Arsenal stand up and be counted don’t expect goals in abundance as recent low-scoring affairs attest. Under 2.5 goals is a shout at 2.10

All of this naturally would be slightly redundant if Arsenal weren’t in such great form right now but by every metric they are.

Eight straight wins in 2024 have taken them to the Premier League summit, and the comprehensive manner of these victories cannot be ignored. Thrashings of Crystal Palace, Burnley, West Ham and Sheffield United has accrued an aggregate scoreline of 33-4 since the new year and to put that further into perspective, City have scored 15 goals fewer this year despite playing a game more.

It’s a goal-haul that has seen Kai Havertz show some uncharacteristic prolificacy, bagging in each of his last four outings, and Bukayo Saka gleefully fill his boots, with 10 goal involvements in nine. The flying winger is expected to feature in some capacity this weekend despite pulling out of the internationals, and the same applies to Gabriel Martinelli who is returning from a foot problem.

With David Raya and Gabriel also available that means Arteta could conceivably have a full compliment to choose from going into this clash, bar the long-term absentee Jurrien Timber, and it’s not an excuse to say that the Spaniard has previously been undermined in these meetings due to key injuries.

And from all of his options it simply wouldn’t be a preview of an Arsenal game without one player in particular being highlighted. It’s been said on here before, and will be said again, that when Martin Odegaard plays well, his team does, and they invariably win.

City have conceded first on 10 occasions this term, three more than the entirety of last season. Arsenal meanwhile have scored inside 20 mins in eight of their last 12. Back the Gunners to lead at the break at 4.10

Mention of Raya and Gabriel meanwhile brings us to the Gunners’ superb rearguard, conceding 0.8 per 90 in 2023/24 and a goal every 180 minutes since the new year.

It’s a well-drilled, resilient back-line that has faced the fewest number of shots on target this term (141) though Saliba and company can’t take all the credit for that, not when they’ve been helped considerably by a hard-working midfield and attack who rank second for winning the ball back in the final third.

Both teams are in the top two for corners won this season but this fixture doesn’t produce many, with six per 90 across the last five meetings. Under 10.5 total tempts at 1.71

Staying with the defence it would be highly pertinent against any other side to mention that Arsenal have kept clean sheets in their last three away games. That though is far less of a factor here.

That’s because, for all that Arsenal have been talked up above let’s not forget who they’re coming up against on Sunday, a multifaceted machine who have scored in their last 47 home league games. That alone is a remarkable feat.

To put it mildly, there are plenty more besides, not least that Guardiola’s men are 20 games unbeaten across all comps and even with a defensive injury crisis, City have to be viewed as favourites ahead of this potentially momentous match-up.

Concerning that crisis, Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji are big doubts while John Stones is out, but in Rico Lewis and Josko Gvardiol the first two have able back-ups, and furthermore the reshuffle should place Nathan Ake at left-back. He has form for keeping Saka quiet.

Ahead of this rejigging the great unknown is Kevin De Bruyne’s fitness, a player who has single-handedly dismantled the Gunners in games past, but Erling Haaland feels nailed-on to play a leading role.

The Striking Viking was kept admirably subdued at the Emirates last October but did score in both meetings last season, chipping in with two assists for good measure.

His return of 0.84 goals per 90 and an average of 2.1 shots on target per game disproves the notion that Haaland is any less of a threat this season, to last.

Back Haaland to have over 1.5 shots on target at 2.55   


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