Manchester City dodged a bullet in midweek as their shock loss to Newcastle only cost them one point against Liverpool, who could only manage a draw the following day when a win would have taken them seven points clear of City.
The same round of fixtures saw Arsenal climb into fourth place, and the players head to Manchester looking for a third straight league win and a chance to lay down a marker in the top four race.
Here’s a look at the key player battles ahead of Sunday’s game.
Sergio Aguero vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The usual collection of short-term injuries that seem to plague Sergio Aguero every season are keeping him off the top of the scoring charts again for the moment. His scoring rate is higher than any other player in the Premier League‘s all-time top ten, but he’s only won the Golden Boot once in his seven seasons so far.
That his goals have led City to three league titles more than make up for it, however, and he’s gunning for another one this year. He likes playing against Arsenal: eight goals in 15 appearances across competitions. Expect him to make another decisive contribution on Sunday.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of three strikers to have scored more league goals than Aguero this season, with his 15 putting him just one behind Mohamed Salah for top spot, and four ahead of the Man City striker.
In an up-and-down season for Arsenal, Aubameyang has been one of the few consistent performers, with his individual talent often dragging his team to wins in otherwise mediocre displays – last week’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff a case in point.
He hasn’t scored in three meetings against City, however, a record he’ll want to correct on Sunday with his side chasing a top four spot.
Fernandinho vs Lucas Torreira
Fernandinho has been the backbone of some of City’s best seasons since joining in 2013 – they won the title in his first campaign at the club – but there are signs that his powers are waning.
The Brazilian bore the brunt of responsibility for City’s shock loss in midweek, giving away the penalty that led to Newcastle’s winning goal after overplaying at the back.
He remains indispensable for his side, but unless he’s on top form, Arsenal might actually pinpoint the 33-year-old as a City weak spot – something that would have been unthinkable even a season ago.
Lucas Torreira is at the other end of the spectrum compared to his City counterpart. Eleven years younger, and at the moment, struggling to maintain the form that gave him a flying start to his first season in England, with there having been a discernible dip in performances since he underpinned Arsenal’s 22-match unbeaten run earlier in the campaign.
Being a midfielder against City is a difficult proposition, with David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne capable of making an opponent dizzy with their interplay and distribution. But if Torreira can find the form of a few months ago, he could stop City in their tracks.
Aymeric Laporte vs Shkodran Mustafi
Though Virgil van Dijk has received most of the attention thanks to the defensive improvement at Liverpool, City fans would argue that Aymeric Laporte, who signed for the club at the same time Van Dijk joined the Reds, has as much a claim to being the Premier League’s best centre-back at the moment.
The Frenchman is the prototypical Pep Guardiola defender: composed while defending, with an excellent reading of the game, and of course, a good distributor in possession.
He will have his hands full with Aubameyang and compatriot Alexandre Lacazette, but so far, Laporte has handled every test thrown at him during his City career.
It would take an ambitious Arsenal fan indeed to put Shkodran Mustafi in the same bracket as Van Dijk and Laporte, but at the moment, he’s the team’s only fit centre-back. Laurent Koscielny returned to training after missing the midweek win over Cardiff, a game that saw Mustafi start alongside Nacho Monreal in the heart of defence.
The makeshift pairing did its job, just about, but Arsenal need more from their German centre-back. On his day he can be a solid defender, robust in the tackle and good on the ball. But he is error-prone, and Arsenal can’t afford any mistakes against City.
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