Man City v Arsenal
Sunday 18 December, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports
What seemed like a routine 2-0 home win over Watford on Wednesday night was actually a most welcome and timely boost.
City hadn't won a home Premier League match since mid-September and the much-needed three points came on the back of their dreadful 4-2 loss at Leicester, a match in which they were 3-0 down after 20 minutes and 4-0 in arrears with 12 minutes left.
And yet, the Watford match didn't pass without further question marks or problems. Odion Ighalo missed a golden chance to equalise for the Hornets with just five minutes left and City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan suffered a bad knee injury which could result in another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
For those who like simple cause and effect, the dropping of John Stones to the bench coincided with City's first clean sheet in eight matches but Pep Guardiola's men still remain a generally failing experiment at the back.
And, of course, they go into one of their key matches of the season without the services of star striker Sergio Aguero. He's a difference maker in big games and, indeed, had scored the opening goal in this fixture in two of the last three seasons.
For now, City remain a project that Guardiola is still coming to terms with. They blew their last serious test at home to Chelsea and look vulnerable to an Arsenal side who are unbeaten in their last six games against the Manchester men.
The Gunners lost their opening Premier League fixture to Liverpool and the most recent one to Everton on Tuesday night but take out those two defeats against the Merseyside duo and they've been consistently excellent in the top-flight this season.
From their other 14 matches, Arsene Wenger's men have chalked up 10 wins and four draws and at their current rate of just over two points per game, Arsenal would finish on 81 points - the same number that Leicester won the title with last season.
Their away record of W5 D2 L1 mirrors their home stats although they've scored 19 goals on their travels compared to 18 at the Emirates and also have a superior goal difference on the road (+12 compared to +8 in front of their own fans).
In short, it may be no bad thing for the Gunners that Sunday's showdown is being played at the Etihad rather than the Emirates, an idea supported by the fact that City have six away wins to just four at home.
Some saw Arsenal's 2-1 defeat at Goodison after being a goal up as another sign of deep-rooted inconsistencies rearing their head again but it's harsh to put too much credence in a single defeat especially as Everton are one of just three sides unbeaten at home this season.
Arsenal got walloped 6-3 in this fixture three years ago but ran out 2-0 winners in 2014/15 and played out a 2-2 draw last season.
Wenger didn't have much luck (just two wins from eight matches) against Guardiola when the Spaniard was in charge of Barcelona and Bayern but that was then and this is now. City simply aren't at the same level and, in theory, this is a good chance for the Frenchman to come out on top.
Man City are 2.226/5 favourites to score back-to-back home wins while Arsenal are 3.55 to make a big statement.
That leaves the draw as the outsider of the three options at 3.65 and, to be honest, it could be the best one.
Arsenal haven't lost successive away games in the Premier League since April 2014 so that's another stat to lead punters away from a City win.
For a team classed as brittle, Arsenal are actually very good at bouncing back and showing some mettle after they've lost on the road.
As stated, Arsenal have lost twice in the Premier League but in both those games they were drawing 1-1 at the break.
In fact, they're the only team in the top division to not be behind after 45 minutes. The breakdown for their half-time stats shows they've been leading seven times and all square on nine occasions.
That said, if all matches ended at the break, Man City would be top of the table with 33 points (10 wins, three draws and three defeats).
The HT prices are City 2.747/4, Arsenal 3.953/1 and Draw 2.3811/8 and possibly the Gunners are big at just under 3/1.
Both Teams To Score
BTTS had landed in eight straight Man City matches before they kept Watford out on Wednesday night.
It's a similar story with the Gunners with BTTS backers collecting in 10 of their last 11 matches in all competitions. It's all reflected in the odds with 'Yes' trading at 1.594/7 and 'No' at 2.6213/8.
As for recent head-to-heads, both teams have netted in six of the last nine meetings.
No Premier League player has scored more opening goals than Alexis Sanchez this season. The Chilean frontman has netted the opener against Everton (a), Bournemouth (h), Sunderland (a), Chelsea (h) and Hull (a). He's 6.25/1 to do it again and, with City far from watertight, that looks worth a play.
With Aguero absent, Sanchez is the star striker on show and, significantly, he a penchant for an early goal.
Sanchez's openers in those Premier League games were after 20, 12, 19, 11 and 17 minutes respectively while he also netted with just 12 minutes on the clock against Ludogrets. In other words, he's got a proven record of cashing in if an early chance comes his way.
It's also worth noting that he's scored in two of his last three games against City, including the equaliser in this fixture last year, so that adds another layer of confidence.
Over/Under 2.5 goals
For starters, this is a match-up between the Premier League's second (Arsenal) and joint-third top scorers.
Secondly, the last six meetings between the pair have produced 24 goals so there's scope to look at Over 3.5 as well as Over 2.5. It's just 1.684/6 for the latter while Over 3.5 is 2.727/4.
Both tempt but the lack of Aguero puts me off.
Martin Atkinson gets the nod for Sunday's battle. He's flashed 66 yellows and a red in 15 games this season and dished out five or more bookings in seven of his last eight matches.
That included taking the names of three Arsenal players (Cech, Gibbs and Sanchez) in the recent 4-1 win at Sunderland. He hasn't been the man in the middle for a Man City match since Guardiola took over.
Back Alexis Sanchez to be First Goalscorer @ 6.25/1
Alexis Sanchez has had a hand in 27 goals in his last 27 Premier League appearances for Arsenal (19
goals, 8 assists).
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