Manchester City welcome Arsenal tonight in a potential Premier League title decider and one of the biggest games in years.
The Gunners are five points clear of City heading into the midweek clash, but Pep Guardiola’s side have two games to play against the north London side.
Before this great crash, WhoScored.com take a look at four key matchups that may determine who emerges victorious at the Etihad Stadium.
Erling Haaland against Gabriel Jesus
Erling Haaland was unable to extend his impressive scoring run to eight games in Manchester City’s 3-0 FA Cup win over Sheffield United at the weekend, but that shouldn’t be a concern for the defending champions. A double against Leicester earlier this month took him to 32 league goals as he closes in on Andy Cole and Alan Shearer’s joint record for most goals scored in a Premier League season.
The Norwegian hitman scored City’s decisive third when the two met at the Emirates in February, but was left out when the two met in the FA Cup at the Etihad in late January. However, with 20 of his 32 league goals scored at home, Haaland will feel confident putting Arsenal to the sword without star centre-back William Saliba on Wednesday night.
Conversely, City must be wary of attacking threat from Arsenal themselves. Gabriel Jesus returns to the Etihad for the first time after his summer move south and the Brazilian seems hell-bent on making up for lost time. Jesus returned injured from the World Cup, eventually making his first league start since November in Arsenal’s 4–1 win over Leeds on April Fools’ Day.
With a double against the Whites and goals against Liverpool and West Ham, four of Jesús’s nine league goals this season have come in his last four starts for Mikel Arteta’s team. Facing his former bosses on Wednesday, Jesus could prove to be the perfect striker to really make a dent in City’s title and give this out-of-form Arsenal the momentum needed to take them to the other side of the line.
Kevin De Bruyne vs. Martin Odegaard
After the World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne suffered a brief dip in form and found himself out of the team on a couple of occasions, starting on the bench against Tottenham and Crystal Palace in February and March respectively. However, following the international break in March, the Belgian has been in sensational form having been directly involved in four goals in his last three league outings, providing three assists to move four ahead in the race to be crowned top assister for the division (15).
What has proven to be key about De Bruyne this season is that he is one of those who show up for the big occasion. He was directly involved in two of Manchester City’s three goals in their 3-1 win at the Emirates earlier this year, and has scored or assisted against Liverpool and Manchester United. A great player, they don’t get much bigger in the Premier League this season than the welcome from title rivals Arsenal.
De Bruyne may have experience on his side, but the opposite side of the coin; Martin Odegaard brings youthful exuberance to this vibrant Arsenal outfit. The Gunners’ captaincy has proven to be a poisoned chalice in recent years, so when Odegaard was chosen to captain the team, fans may have feared the worst. However, the Norway international has taken the decision calmly.
Odegaard has directly contributed to 19 league goals for Arsenal this season, netting 12, with returns not seen since his time with Vitesse. Crucial, however, is what the 24-year-old brings to the full-back off the ball. Odegaard has won possession in the attacking third more times (41) than any other player in the Premier League this season and if anyone can disrupt City’s ability to play from behind, it’s the Gunners captain.
Jack Grealish vs. Gabriel Martinelli
Jack Grealish drew his fair share of critics following a disappointing debut season at Manchester City, but he took his game to the next level in 2022/23. Grealish enjoyed ample freedom in the attacking third during his final campaign with Aston Villa, so he essentially had to redevelop his game to become a better system player under Pep Guardiola.
Five goals and six assists may seem like a disappointing return for a player of Grealish’s ilk in this free-scoring City side, but he has established himself as one of the most consistent players in the division, as evidenced by a WhoScored.com rating of 7.35. City fans know that he will keep the ball well to keep the pressure on opposing defences, but he is capable of finding the breakthrough where it is needed, highlighted by commendable 2.1 dribbles returns and 2.1 key passes per 90. While Haaland and De Bruyne They have received applause. , Grealish has been just as important as the previous couple in this city team.
And he’s not the only key left winger for his team, with Gabriel Martinelli rediscovering his scoring touch at just the right time for Arsenal. Martinelli started 2023 on a six-game scoreless run, and this barren run actually saw him dropped by Arteta for their eventual 4-2 win over Aston Villa. The Brazilian scored late from the bench at Villa Park, and since then; he has been nearly unstoppable.
In fact, Martinelli has been directly involved in a goal in all but one of his last 10 league outings, netting eight goals and providing another three assists. Arsenal’s top scorer with 15 league goals to his name, Martinelli is hoping to end the Gunners’ woes at City as the north London side failed to score, let alone win, on their last four visits to Manchester.
John Stones vs. Rob Holding
What has been key in Manchester City’s late rally to overtake Arsenal for first place has been the versatility of John Stones. Comfortable at centre-back, right-back or in midfield, Stones has been consistent in both denying opponents and dictating the pace for the defending champions, allowing Guardiola to implement a 3-2-4-1 attacking system. A pass success rate of 93.7 per cent is the best in the Premier League this season, with some going so far as to say that the England international is currently the best centre-back in the game.
That’s a bold call, but there’s logic behind the assumption. Stones is one of the most successful players on the ball, and the ease with which he turns under pressure should not be underestimated. This is key to help turn defense into attack with City, unlike Emirates who are expected to dominate the proceedings.
This is unfortunate for Rob Holding, who has struggled alongside Gabriel in the absence of William Saliba. Saliba’s injury, coupled with Takehiro Tomiyasu’s spell on the sidelines, has dealt a major blow to Arsenal’s title quest, with Holding far from the level required of a Premier League title-chasing team.
Arteta’s side concede an average of 3.3 league goals per 90 when the Holding starts, and the 27-year-old lacks composure both on and off the ball as Saliba takes to the wing. He shut out Haaland in the FA Cup tie at the Etihad in January, but Holding’s defensive shortcomings have thrown Arsenal off balance. City should mercilessly take the lead in Wednesday’s title decider.