Manchester City and Arsenal are set to lock horns at the Etihad Stadium later tonight in a Premier League fixture that has already been rescheduled twice this season.
The encounter is the second of two fixtures on Wednesday as England’s top flight makes its return after being suspended for more than three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The game will be played behind closed doors in the absence of supporters and will have a limited number of attendees, which include emergency services, journalists and health personnel.
Pep Guardiola’s men, who occupy second place in the Premier League table, have resigned to the inevitability of their faltering title defence as Liverpool are only a few points away from winning their first league title in thirty years.
Defeat to their London opponents would, of course, accelerate the process as it would leave the Reds needing only one more win to attain glory.
Meanwhile, the Gunners, who are ninth on the standings, have enjoyed a turnaround in fortunes since Mikel Arteta replaced Unai Emery last December and are yet to taste defeat this calendar year.
Having said that, the north London giants do tend to settle for draws rather than victories and will need to start securing maximum points if they want to make a late challenge for a Champions League spot this season.
As we await this headlining fixture of the matchday, let us take a look at five key battles that could decide the game.
#1 Ederson Moraes vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
One of the best goalkeepers in England will go head to head against one of the most gifted strikers in the Premier League in this classic goalkeeper-striker battle.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been Arsenal’s primary game-decider this season, carrying the majority of the goalscoring burden; a fact which is indisputable when one considers he is the only player in the team with double-digit goal figures (17) in the top flight.
The Gabon international will be looking to add to his tally and close the gap with current league top scorer Jamie Vardy- who has 19 goals to his name- and strengthen his challenge for the Golden Boot in the process.
He will also be aiming to hit the 50-goal mark to become the sixth-fastest player to achieve the feat in the history of the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Ederson remains one of the most formidable goalkeepers in the English top-flight despite being guilty of a series of costly mistakes this season.
His errors in Manchester City’s previous encounter against Manchester United was one of the reasons why his side lost the derby and the Brazilian will certainly be looking to make amends for the display when he faces the Arsenal captain later tonight.
#2 Raheem Sterling vs Hector Bellerin
Both Raheem Sterling and Hector Bellerin will head into tonight’s encounter on the back of torrid form in the Premier League.
Sterling was one of the best performers in the top flight last season and appeared to have replicated the same form this term.
However, the former Liverpool winger suffered a dip in form before the nationwide lockdown, failing to register a single goal or assist this calendar year.
Meanwhile, Bellerin returned to full fitness this year after recovering from a knee injury but has struggled to get back to his previous form and was often seen out of depth before the enforced break.
Tonight’s Premier League fixture offers both players a chance to redeem themselves to their respective teams as they are bound to come up against each other at the Etihad.
#3 Kevin De Bruyne vs Granit Xhaka
The midfield battle that will ensue at the Etihad tonight is an intriguing one as Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne will take on former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka.
De Bruyne is the reigning champions’ best player by a mile and has been one of the best midfielders in the Premier League this season.
The Belgian playmaker has 8 goals and 16 assists in the top flight this season and is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the park.
Xhaka will be tasked with keeping the creative maestro at bay but will have his work cut out for him, especially as his recklessness and frequent lapses of judgement have caused plenty of trouble for the Gunners over the years.
#4 Riyad Mahrez vs Bukayo Saka
Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez will likely come up against Arsenal’s makeshift left-back Bukayo Saka in tonight’s Premier League encounter.
The Algeria international has finally come into his own this season after an inconsistent debut campaign at the Etihad. He has already doubled his previous season’s assist tally in the Premier League- with 8 to his name this term- and has equalled his total of 7 league goals.
The 29-year-old winger will be looking to terrorise Saka at the Etihad but will face stiff competition from the youngster, who has impressed in his auxiliary full-back position in the absence of Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac.
Saka, who has three goals to his name this season, became the first teenager to reach double assist figures (10) in a single campaign with the Gunners since Cesc Fàbregas in the 2006-07 season and is the youngest player to assist in back-to-back Premier League appearances since Francis Jeffers for Everton in 1999.
The 18-year-old, who is naturally a left-winger, is a lethal presence on both ends of the pitch and his individual battle with Mahrez tonight will surely be a delight to watch.
#5 Sergio Aguero vs David Luiz
Sergio Aguero and David Luiz have gone head to head innumerable times over the years and the two players are set to meet once again as Manchester City take on Arsenal tonight.
The Manchester City frontman is one of the most lethal strikers in the Premier League and has registered 16 goals and 3 assists this term.
He will surely be hoping to surpass or equal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s tally of goals in the division (17) as he looks to take advantage of an Arsenal defence that has been considerably weak all season.
Luiz occupies the centre of the previously-disastrous Gunners defence and will be aiming to thwart any efforts from the Argentine striker to exploit the space at the centre of the back-line.
Doing so will prove to be a Herculean task for the Brazilian defender and his partner but it is to be noted that Arsenal’s defence has significantly improved since the appointment of Mikel Arteta as manager.
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