ARSENAL and Manchester City will be eager to gain a foothold in the title race when the two teams go head to head at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night (KO 20:00 GMT).
A victory for either side on Monday night would be the perfect way to prepare for the festive period and send out a major statement to the rest of the Premier League title contenders.
Arsenal and City are both within touching distance of pacesetters Leicester City with many expecting the Foxes to soon drop off after an astonishing start.
The Gunners rounded off a successful week by coasting to victory at basement boys Aston Villa, adding to the miracle saving Champions League win in Greece.
With Mesut Ozil in scintillating form and the irrepressible Alexis Sanchez chomping at the bit, Arsenal will feel confident they can keep the good runoff form going when City roll up in North London on Monday evening.
Having regained their form following a winless November, the Gunners can ill-afford a winter slump if they are to harbour ambitions of a Premier League title charge.
It’s been over 11 years since Arsenal lifted the title during the season of ‘Les Invincibles’. Arsenal’s encouraging campaign to date has given them the best opportunity to end their league title drought.
However, Manchester City have equally lofty ambitions to the Gunners and will be determined to recapture the title following their failed defence last season.
City were somewhat fortunate to prevail in their previous outing against Swansea, in a lacklustre display which Joe Hart describes as ’being awful’.
Without the influential presence of Vincent Kompany, City’s defence has been erratic of late, managing to keep just one clean sheet in their previous 11 outings.
However, the Citizens will be buoyed by the return of Sergio Aguero for the visit to the Emirates, who has been declared fit for the clash following an injury layoff.
The Argentine sharpshooter has missed City’s last four matches with a heel injury but, provided he suffers no reaction, is likely to return on Monday.
Aguero, who missed six weeks with a hamstring injury earlier this season, injured his foot in November’s 3-1 win over Southampton.
The Premier League Golden Boot winner has been a monumental miss for City this season, with Ivorian replacement Wilfried Bony struggling to fill the void left in the Argentine’s absence.
Aguero’s much anticipated return will provide Laurent Koscielny and co plenty of food for thought as they ponder how they are going to keep one of the world’s most prolific forwards quiet.
City will travel to London in high spirits having not lost in their last three visits to Arsenal.
Martin Demichelis late header salvaged a 2-2 draw the last time the two teams met in London with the Gunners winning the return encounter at the Etihad back in January.
Although both Pellegrini and Wenger have played down the importance of Monday’s fixture, there is nothing either manager would like than a win to showcase their title credentials.
Monday night’s encounter is a mouth-watering prospect as Claudio Ranieri watches on perched at the top of the tree.
It’s all still to play for to see who will reach the Christmas number one spot.
Arsene Wenger on Man City
“We are in December. We are not fighting for the Premier League on Monday night. But we will be looking to nullify them. You cannot ignore the individual quality they have up front.
“You look to nullify their quality and attack yourself.
Manuel Pellegrini on Jose Mourinho’s departure
“Me, I don’t have to miss anyone but I prefer the Premier League with Mourinho than without Mourinho,
“I think the Premier League will be better with the best players and the best managers working here. I manage a team in a very different way that he does it. Maybe a lot of things he does I don’t like to do it but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good manager.”
Olivier Giroud v Nicolas Otamendi
In Kompany’s absence, the Argentine defender is likely to be assigned the role of nullifying the in-form Frenchman, leaving an intriguing battle in store.
Giroud was the scourge of City the last time the two sides met and Otamendi will need to be diligent in his defensive work if he is to keep him quiet on Monday.
The Argentine is known for his tough tackling style and he’ll need to put that to good use if he is to prevent Giroud from getting into his stride.
By Dave Warman