Arsenal and Manchester City will go head-to-head at the Emirates Stadium on Monday with the chance for both teams to take a major step in the hunt for the Premier League title. In one of the most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, Leicester City have surged toward top spot while champions Chelsea and fellow giants Manchester United have fallen into disarray. But for Arsenal and City, Monday represents an opportunity to start restoring some order and making the most of a wide-open title race.
“It inspires everybody,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the club’s official website. “The teams behind by five or six points all think that with a good run they can be there. It is very open, but that’s what is sensational. It is not only a league where you think it’s only Real Madrid or Barcelona [who can win it]. I find it very good and very healthy.”
Arsenal will go into Monday’s clash in second place, five points behind Leicester but a point above Manchester City. The north London side have gone 12 years without winning the championship, during which time Wenger and his team have frequently been criticized for lacking the consistency required to mount a concerted challenge. Wenger accepts that their character will continue to be called into question, although insists that they have already displayed signs of having the tools required to end their drought.
“What I feel is great team spirit and great unity in the dressing room, and a focus to go forward, that’s for sure,” he said. "After that, we have to answer on the pitch whether we are good enough.
“It was true [that Arsenal didn’t have the required character] for a while because we were a young team and a young team can be up and down. But I believe now we have shown it… what we did at Olympiakos is not a team of no character. You need to be special to achieve that. We won the FA Cup in the last two seasons and you need character to win the FA Cup. Everybody would love to do it every year.”
As well as beating Olympiakos 3-0 to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, Arsenal have won back-to-back Premier League matches, despite battling a lengthy injury list. And Arsenal could be given a boost on Monday, with Alexis Sanchez rated by Wenger as having “a slight chance” to return from a hamstring strain.
There is even better fitness news for Arsenal’s opponents. Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero has recovered from a heel injury suffered in the win over Southampton three weeks ago, with Manuel Pellegrini now having to decide whether to throw him back in from the start. Given the magnitude of the matchup, that appears likely. However, the Chilean has stressed that the contest with Arsenal is far from being a title decider.
“It’s not a decisive game as after this we have to play 21 games more,” he said, according to Manchester City’s official website. “It’s important to try to be the best team from the first round, to play against a team with one point more. It’s a game of six points, to win three and to take three off a rival.
“We must consider Leicester -- they are still top of the table. United are just a few points behind us. Tottenham can be involved, so can Liverpool and Crystal Palace. It’s impossible just to think there are two teams involved in the title.”
City will remain without captain Vincent Kompany, who has been out for more than a month, during which time his team’s form has been inconsistent. But City, who will also be missing Fernando, Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri, did beat Swansea City 2-1 last time out.
D: Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Flamini, Ramsey
Walcott, Özil , Campbell
D: Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov
M: Fernandinho, Toure
De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra