Having reached the midpoint of the campaign, Telegraph Sport’s football writing team ponders the question on the lips of title-hungry Arsenal and perennial winners Manchester City: Can Mikel Arteta end the 19-year wait, or Pep Guardiola will add a seventh? Premier League title in your trophy case in May?
Arsenal have defied all expectations and have even hit back at some of the critics who thought the injury to a key player would derail their title fight. They lost Gabriel Jesus and just carried on without him, thanks in no small part to the excellence of Eddie Nketiah.
And yet, there is a nagging feeling that a lack of depth in the squad will ultimately cost Mikel Arteta’s side, especially once the Europa League resumes. They have shown that they can get by without Jesus, but can they get by without the likes of Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka? The starting lineup is very strong, but there is a clear drop in the players behind them. Against the might of Manchester City, that could work.
Arsenal have the upper hand, but City’s relentlessness down the stretch will test the psychological resolve of the leaders. They will need to have stretched their lead beyond 10 points with 10 games remaining to keep them at bay.
While Arsenal continue to defy all doubters and keep winning, Manchester City almost will. The two games between the clubs are obviously crucial, but I think City will have the advantage. With the second match at the Etihad, it will almost feel like a two-legged semi-final and that will suit Pep Guardiola’s players well. I also suspect that Arsenal’s meeting with Unai Emery in a resurgent Aston Villa on February 18 could be a pivotal moment in the title race.
Arsenal continue to surprise and delight at every juncture and will be helped if Manchester City can progress to the last rounds of the Champions League. But it’s easy to forget that we’re only halfway through the league season and the two clubs have yet to meet twice. City can be counted on to approach 90 points, which means Arsenal will need to average around two points a game in the second of the season to clinch their first title since 2004. Quite possible, but still a task hard.
As impressive as Arsenal have been in recent weeks, it’s worth remembering that it’s not really the end of January, at least not by the usual Premier League schedule. The World Cup means that we have only reached what would be the turn of the year in a normal season. It’s a small but important distinction, especially given the remaining two meetings between Arsenal and Manchester City. I hope City’s experience and depth give them a small advantage and a fifth title in six seasons.
Why not? It’s hard to put a dent in the season-after-season dominance of the championship-winning machine Abu Dhabi has built, but every once in a while the opportunity presents itself. Liverpool took theirs in 2020. Going further back, before Pep Guardiola’s era of omnipotence, Leicester City’s 2016 miracle was built on a first XI carved in stone and no European football on weekdays. Arsenal have a bit more team depth than that and are certainly capable of beating any team at the Emirates, where Manchester City are due to arrive in two weeks’ time. This is an excellent Arsenal team and now they have a cause to unite.
I had expected Arsenal to drop in the league but they have passed every test up to this point and there is real momentum behind them. Clubs are always most powerful when there is synergy between the team and its supporters and Arsenal have not had this unity of purpose and desire for some time. It’s rocket fuel.
I don’t think Manchester City’s FA Cup win will matter too much and it may even help Arsenal in the title race as they will have some time off. There is pressure on both teams and I think Arsenal will have enough, especially with the points difference they already have, to stay ahead of the race. City will probably have to beat them twice in the league to have a chance of overtaking them and I don’t see that happening.
I am going to retract what I said a few weeks ago when I was still supporting Manchester City to win it and bet on Arsenal. City scored 45 points after 19 games in 2018/19 and went on to add an incredible 54 in the next 19, including winning their last 14 games, to edge Liverpool for the title by one point. They’re at 45 points after 20 games this time around and I don’t think collectively or individually they’re playing well enough to put together another terrific run.
I wonder if City’s focus has drifted towards the Champions League, not that it’s easy to prioritize competitions and flip a switch if you’re not playing well. The fact that they have two games to go against Arsenal gives them hope, but City still have plenty of other tough games to go through and I think Mikel Arteta’s side have considerable wiggle room.
I’m not as sure of this prediction as I was at the start of the season, but I still think Arsenal will slip up and let City come back. The two games between the clubs will obviously be crucial, just like this weekend when City must beat Tottenham Hotspur. I don’t see Spurs doing their north London rivals a favour.