The final Premier League game before Christmas is the game of the season so far, as Arsenal host Manchester City. Michael Cox looks at the tactics while Alan Thompson considers the betting.
"While the potential line-ups scream ‘attack’, realistically a draw wouldn’t be a bad result for either side."
Arsenal v Manchester City
Monday 20:00, Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Arsenal 2.56/4, Man City 3.185/40, The Draw 3.613/5.
Leicester City might be top of the Premier League, but Arsenal and Manchester City are the true title favourites, and whoever triumphs at the Emirates here will find themselves in an excellent position to push on after Christmas.
These sides battled out an eventful draw here last season, before Arsenal recorded a season-defining 2-0 victory at the Etihad in the reverse fixture.
That's part of the reason Arsenal start this game as favourites, although there are plenty of other factors, like the Gunners' fine performances on home soil since the surprise defeat to West Ham on the opening weekend, or the fact Manchester City have somehow not scored in their last three away games.
Arsene Wenger is still suffering from various injury problems, and therefore his only major decision is about the fitness of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean could be in line for a quick return to first-team action, but Wenger would do well not to risk him ahead of a busy Christmas period.
Joel Campbell would be the man to drop out if Sanchez is declared fit, although the Costa Rican has been performing well recently and Wenger might consider it wise to keep an unchanged side.
Otherwise, it will probably be the Arsenal side we've become accustomed to in recent weeks, with Aaron Ramsey alongside Mathieu Flamini in the middle, and Theo Walcott out on the right.
The only possible change Wenger could make is bringing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the side, probably in place of Campbell. He'd contribute more in the midfield zone against a City side likely to pack that area, and might also provide some extra mobility if Ramsey is told to play a more defensive role than last weekend against Aston Villa.
Manuel Pellegrini has also suffered from injury problems recently. Vincent Kompany is unlikely to be back here, but Sergio Aguero should be fit to start upfront, which inevitably changes City's side completely.
Wilfried Bony had performed competently as the lone striker, but Aguero's pace and finishing ability will ensure Arsenal have to defend slightly deeper.
Pellegrini's main decision is about the format of his midfield, and which role Yaya Toure should play. He's likely to start deep, with his forward bursts potentially leaving Fernandinho stranded in the holding role, but Pellegrini will be concerned about the lack of discipline in this zone, and therefore might push Toure forward behind Aguero, with David Silva fielded in a wide starting role and Fabian Delph coming into the side alongside Fernandinho.
This would mean having to leave out Kevin De Bruyne or, more likely, Raheem Sterling, however, and Pellegrini is essentially having to make a decision over whether to choose structural discipline or his best attackers on paper. To be frank, you never know which way Pellegrini will swing in this respect.
There should be some fascinating individual clashes in this game. Ramsey, now in his favoured central midfield role, should go head-to-head against Toure in the centre of the pitch, while Walcott will look to attack the space behind Aleksandar Kolarov readily.
But most important will be Fernandinho, charged with stopping Mesut Ozil's drifts into positions between the lines. With 13 Premier League assists already this season, the German is the Premier League's in-form playmaker.
It will also be interesting to see how Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis cope against Olivier Giroud, who has scored five goals in his last three games and continues to make excellent near-post runs. The absence of Kompany is clearly affecting City badly - they've kept six clean sheets in seven league games with the Belgian starting, but, incredibly, just one in seven without him.
It's also worth considering the mentalities of the two sides, however, and this where things get interesting. While the potential line-ups scream 'attack', realistically a draw wouldn't be a bad result for either side, keeping them in a strong position in the league.
The sides will be wary of overexerting themselves ahead of a busy Christmas period, and therefore a fairly cautious draw wouldn't be entirely surprising.
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
Arsenal welcome Manchester City to the Emirates for a festive meeting between the two market favourites to win the title this year, and both sides should be coming into the game in good spirits. Both are also coming off Premier League wins last week and they sit handy in second and third position in the league having also qualified out of the group stage of the Champions League.
I am always wary of backing Arsenal against the top sides - excluding this season, in their last 12 home games against the top five finishing sides they have won three, so far this campaign they have played Tottenham (1-1), Liverpool (0-0) and they beat Manchester United convincingly 3-0. Four of their last six meetings against Manchester City at the Emirates have ended in a draw and the Gunners have only conceded five at home in 15/16.
Manchester City are no mugs defensively either though, having kept five clean sheets out of their seven away days this campaign (they only managed five clean sheets on the road in the entirety of last season), and no one has conceded fewer away goals. Only six have been put past Joe Hart on their travels so far and four of them came in one game at White Hart Lane. City have scored 32 goals already, only Leicester have scored more (34), but the vast majority (25) of those goals have come at the Etihad.
Key players for both sides are rumoured to be near to a return - Sergio Aguero has returned to training this week, and Alexis Sanchez has a very slim chance of being involved. Either of these players are capable of changing the game but I am going to assume neither will make it.
I think this could be another stalemate between these two but rather than backing the draw in the Match Odds market, I will take on the high-scoring draws by dutch backing 0-0 @ 16 and 1-1 @ 8.2 in the Correct Score market giving dutched odds of approximately 5.4 (against the draw price in the match odds of 3.6).