With all due respect to Leicester City and Jamie Vardy the live televised match on Monday night between Arsenal and Manchester City brings together the two best teams in the league. It’s 4/5 that one of these are champions by the end of the season and it does look like a two horse race. Leicester will not win the Premier League but they are playing well enough for a top four finish and a place in the Champions League.
The other live matches have an average feel to them but the fixture between Newcastle United and Aston Villa on Saturday will have implications at the other end of the table. Liverpool’s record under Jurgen Klopp is no better than the early Brendon Rodgers days but they can win on the road at Watford. West Ham should avoid defeat at Swansea and push on for qualification for the Europa League.
The best has been definitely saved for last this weekend. Arsenal are one place and just one point ahead of City after both sides have played 16 league matches. The difference is due to the fact that Arsenal have drawn one more match rather than losing and both teams have won ten. In terms of goal difference Arsenal are one ahead so the fixture looks an evenly matched contest but home advantage could be key to the outcome.
The fixture has produced an even spread of outcomes in recent years but overall City have had the better of the contests. The Manchester club have won 94 of the 186 meetings, lost 49 and there have been 43 draws. Both sides have won three of the last ten matches and there have been four draws. City have a slight edge in goals over this spell having scored 14 and conceded 13. The numbers suggest a draw but Arsenal are at the top of their game so can record a significant win.
Since losing at West Brom in November the Gunners are unbeaten in five, recording four wins and a draw. In this period they have scored 12 goals and conceded just two. Olivier Giroud is in the form of his life and can score for the fourth successive match against City. The visitors have won four of their last five matches but defeat away to Stoke two weeks ago was damaging. With Pep Guardiola lined up it will be interesting to see if the players perform for the current manager.
In the Racing Post’s Half Time Team Talk feature which summarises the season to date football tipster Mark Langdon predicts a one two for the southern and northern powerhouses. Rather than jumping off the fence he suggests you back the dual forecast at 7-5 with Paddy Power. City are marginal favourites to win the league but the odds could flip-flop if Arsenal beat them on Monday and that is our projection.
The key to City’s prospects is the joint influence of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero. The pair have only played together in four matches which City have won by an aggregate of 8-0.The problem is there is no guarantee of both being in the side at the same time. When David Silva has appeared alongside Kompany and Aguero City have won all three fixtures but consistent selection is a luxury for Manuel Pellegrini.
Injuries have caught up with Arsenal with breaks from team selection involving Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Carzola. The fact that Arsenal and City are second and third despite significant absentees suggest they are the two best teams in the league. Leicester have been a revelation but they have played only one game on the road to a top half team but finishing in the top four is perfectly feasible.
Playing in the Champions League is the Holy Grail of European football. The four qualifiers from England have virtually been set in stone for several years. The shift to smaller clubs has been caused by a bigger relative share of the TV booty and that trend should continue. Manchester United are producing dire football and Chelsea are a bigger price for the title than relegation.
Class should ultimately tell and a season of unpredictability will end predictably. However, that does not help in identifying the champions but it’s a safe bet it will be one of two teams. It would be wonderful if Leicester won the league but economic reality points to Arsenal or City being champions and the London club are marginally favoured in this context.