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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Opinion: Write Manchester City’s title hopes off at your peril

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There are a multitude of positives that can be applied to Arsenal this season and with them all combining it has placed the Gunners eight points clear at the summit of the Premier League.

A fluid and brilliant front four have created chances aplenty, playing a sizable role in Arsenal averaging 2.3 goals per 90. At the back, Gabriel and William Saliba have forged a partnership the club have long been crying out for, and between these two over-achieving dynamics, there is Thomas Partey running the show, alongside a player transformed in Granit Xhaka.

With Mikel Arteta’s process coming to fruition, Arsenal have stolen a march on their rivals, putting together the most unexpected of title charges.

More so, it’s a title charge that has seen various narratives and doubts, prematurely affixed to the club, fall away to nothing.

It’s merely a good start. That was an early suspicion, one that gained credence when Arsenal lost at Old Trafford six games in. They have not been beaten since.

Their squad lacks depth. That was another misgiving, with lots of noses being tapped when Gabriel Jesus succumbed to a long-term lay-off. His replacement, Eddie Nketiah however, has scored two in three to date.

So now, finally, it has become widely accepted that the Gunners are likely in it for the long haul. Furthermore, they will take some catching.

As for their nearest challengers, Manchester City’s portrayal as a force – or otherwise – to be reckoned with has sharply contrasted. Unbeaten across August and with Erling Haaland smashing goal-scoring records from the off, a slew of articles appeared essentially deriding the club’s existence. It simply wasn’t fair that Pep Guardiola’s creation was so good. They were making the Premier League uncompetitive.

This bemoaning of their excellence continued even when Arsenal began to take the ascendancy, with City trailing in second. Indeed, it was considered an inevitability that the latter would ultimately prevail.

But now? Well, now things have changed.

For three consecutive home games – spliced by a World Cup – an extravagantly gifted side, that has won the league four times in the last five years, have visibly struggled, needing a late, late winner to see off Fulham before being undone by a late, late concession to Brentford. Against Everton last week, players known for finding solutions appeared to be clean out of ideas.

In press conferences meanwhile, Guardiola is talking unprompted of poor body language from some and weight issues with others. All it appears is not quite right at the residence of the champions. And then there are those eight points to factor in too.

Naturally therefore, the narrative has altered, with City’s chances, if not entirely written off, greatly played down and with Arsenal now being touted as title favourites it is tempting to believe the hype, to believe it is they who have the momentum. It is the Gunners who should be backed.

That though is a dangerous assumption.

Because Manchester City have been here before. Indeed, they’ve been here before several times over and always won out and when you think about it, it’s plain odd that a team who breezes through seasons, playing superior and sensational football, seem to have a masochistic bent to make life difficult for themselves.

Friendly reminder that Man City have won the league twice after being behind by more than seven points 😎 #mcfc pic.twitter.com/i7Q1fcozPr

— Manchester City News (@ManCityMEN) January 2, 2023

It’s an idiosyncrasy that began all the way back in 2011/12 when City seemed to be coasting to their first-ever Premier League crown. Just one win in five however as winter turned to spring gave their arch-neighbours United the initiative meaning that with six games to go City languished eight points behind.

Yet by the final day of the season, Roberto Mancini’s men had clawed back their advantage but even then they contrived to create drama. It took one of the most famous goals in top-flight history to secure a title that appeared to be in their grasp throughout.

Two years later a loss at Anfield, and a subsequent draw at home to strugglers Sunderland, left City six points adrift of Liverpool with just a handful of games remaining. It felt like a miracle was needed to overturn the deficit at such a late juncture and duly two arrived in the form of a Crystal Palace comeback against the Reds and a Steven Gerrard slip. Let’s not forget though that Manuel Pellegrini’s side simply had to win their last five fixtures, two of which were formidably tough. Showing reserves of fortitude and belief, they did.

In 2018/19 came arguably City’s most impressive feat, stringing together 14 wins on the bounce from early February on to overcome a Liverpool side that lost only once all season and then two years after that, we witnessed another remarkable resurrection. With a fifth of the campaign played, City were way down in 13th and supposedly out of contention. By picking up 52 points from the next 57 available they romped home.

This is a team and a club that are more than capable of suddenly igniting and going on a sustained charge. A team and a club that has the overcoming of adversity to ultimately grab silverware in their DNA.

Can the same be said of Arsenal? In their DNA is a late collapse last term, to deprive themselves of a top-four spot and surely that will be a psychological factor when games get tense, when nerves get frayed.

Indeed, when assessing both squads, Manchester City have a plethora of players who have been in the trenches, the odds stacked against them, and somehow prevailed. Arsenal by comparison have just two, and both arrived from the blue half of Manchester last summer.

Read – Are Arsenal shedding their stereotypes with a title up for grabs?

See also – Ranking the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League right now

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