Arsenal vs. Manchester City – 8:00pm local time on Monday, December 21, 2015 at Emirates Stadium
$2.50 at William Hill
Table position: 2nd
League form: D L D W W
$2.94 at www.CrownBet.com
Table position: 3rd
League form: D L W L W
$3.50 at Sportsbet.com
Last five EPL meetings
Man City 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-2 Man City
Arsenal 1-1 Man City
Man City 6-3 Arsenal
Arsenal 0-2 Man City
SECOND plays third this Monday as two of the English Premier League’s heavyweights wrestle for the upper hand heading into the Christmas fixtures.
Arsenal have returned to winning ways in the last two weeks, dispatching cellar-dwellers Sunderland and Aston Villa to stay two points off the league leaders, Leicester City.
However, they will be disappointed to have only taken seven points from a four-game stretch which also featured a loss to West Bromwich Albion and a draw with Norwich City.
The Gunners’ greatest foe this season is their injury list, which has now gained another long-term member in Santi Cazorla.
The Spanish midfielder played on against Norwich three weeks ago despite suffering a knee injury during the game, but further scans have revealed ligament damage which will keep him sidelined for at least three months.
Speaking to Spanish radio this week, Cazorla said: “I am trying to take it well. These are the things that happen in football and I am trying to recover as soon as possible.
“I have to be ready mentally to work and hopefully I can shorten the recovery time as much as possible.
“I do not want to set a time but I want to play in three months. I do not want to extend it more if it is possible. Arsenal have told me it will be between three and four months, which may be closer to four.”
At Manchester City, it’s a different kind of personnel issue which is grabbing all the headlines.
The British tabloids are awash with talk of an impending move for Pep Guardiola, who is rumoured to be on the verge of quitting his coaching post at Bayern Munich.
The current Man City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, has 18 months remaining on his contract, but reports suggest the Eastlands hierarchy will not hesitate to pull the trigger if Guardiola becomes available.
That might have something to do with the club’s recent form.
Having held top spot for much of the 2015-16 Premier League season, the Citizens are now third after winning only two of their last five games.
That run includes a 4-1 mauling by Liverpool at the Etihad, a 2-0 loss away at Stoke City, and a 1-1 draw against bottom-placed Aston Villa – a team which has managed only six points in 16 games.
City were back on the winner’s list last week, but it took an injury-time strike from substitute Kelechi Iheanacho to get them past a struggling Swansea City.
Joe Hart wasn’t sugarcoating anything when he spoke to the press on Wednesday.
“We need to be a million per cent better against Arsenal,” the City goalkeeper said.
“We need to step up. We can be awesome when we want to be, so we need to be more consistent, that’s what we’re looking for.
“It’s a shame it needs the dragon to be poked before we come out of the cage.
“We know what we’ve got here and it’s frustrating when we don’t do it, but it’s a long season and we’ve got ourselves into a good place.”
The City camp cited fatigue as a major factor in their recent poor form, but Hart refused to lay the blame on tiredness alone.
“We used that excuse last week, so we can’t use it again this week,” said the England number one.
“We probably were [tired against Swansea] but it’s not an excuse I’ll use. I refuse to use that.
“It’s easy for me to say that, playing in goal, but I don’t think the lads would want to use it either. We didn’t play well, but we won.
“We have to get our heads together and start playing properly again. We’re [near the] top of the league, we went through in the Champions League as group winners and are in the semi finals of the Capital One Cup.
“We’re in a good place, we just need to start performing as we know we can. At least seven, eight of us. We know every couple of weeks people will have off days.”
Arsenal team news
While Cazorla’s knee trouble is a blow, there is much more promising news regarding Alexis Sanchez.
The Chilean is pushing for selection after injuring his hamstring against Norwich, which leaves Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with a tough call over whether to risk his star forward so soon.
Mikel Arteta is also nearing a return to action after a lengthy absence with a calf strain, but reports indicate he won’t be available until Boxing Day at the earliest.
Jack Wilshere (shin) is out until the New Year, while Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin (all knee injuries) are several weeks away yet.
Possible Arsenal XI: Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil; Campbell, Giroud, Walcott.
Manchester City team news
The Sky Blues could welcome back several stars for Monday’s trip to London.
Sergio Aguero is tipped to return after some time out with an ankle injury, while club captain Vincent Kompany is close to shaking off a calf strain.
Stalwart full-back Pablo Zabaleta could also be up for selection, having been sidelined for much of the season with a medial ligament injury.
Fernando is laid up with a muscle strain and won’t be back before Christmas, while Samir Nasri’s severe hamstring problem will keep him off the park well into 2016.
Possible Man City XI: Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Kompany, Clichy; Toure, Fernandinho; De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling; Aguero.
– Draw ($3.50 at www.Sportsbet.com)
– Both teams to score ($1.58 at CrownBet)
– Correct score 1-1 ($7.60 at CrownBet.com)
Given their respective form over the last few weeks, it’s hard to get a good read on either Arsenal or Man City right now.
The fitness of key players such as Sanchez and Aguero could be key, especially if one starts and the other doesn’t.
History says City don’t like facing Arsenal, as they have lost more Premier League games against the Gunners (22) than against any other side.
There’s also the fact Wenger’s men have conceded only 11 goals in their last 20 EPL home games.
However, the Londoners’ injury list and the indifferent form of both parties means there is a fair chance this one will end all square.
Arsenal first goalscorer bets
Olivier Giroud ($6 at CrownBet)
The Frenchman has his critics, but you can’t knock his form this season. With 11 goals in his last 13 appearances in all competitions, Giroud is an obvious choice.
Aaron Ramsey ($12 at Bet365)
There’s been plenty of talk lately over which part of the midfield best suits Arsenal’s Welsh prompter. But whether he plays through the middle or out on the wing, a fit-and-firing Ramsey is a genuine goal threat.
Man City first goalscorer odds
Raheem Sterling ($10 at William Hill)
With eight goals in all competitions this season, the 21-year-old England winger is well on his way to beating his previous of best of 11 (2014-15). Kun Aguero might be a little rusty, if he starts at all, so Sterling looks as good a bet as any.
David Silva ($12 at CrownBet)
While injuries have limited the Spaniard’s output this season, he remains arguably the most important player at Eastlands. Silva may not be prolific, but he scores big goals – including two in City’s last four EPL meetings with Arsenal.
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