Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Ben McAleer

The key battles where Man City vs Arsenal will be won and lost

Getty Images

Manchester City welcome of Arsenal tonight in a potential Premier League title decider and one of the biggest games in years.

The Gunners are five points clear of City heading into the midweek showdown, but Pep Guardiola’s side have two games in hand on the north London outfit.

Ahead of this huge clash, take a look at four key head-to-heads that may determine who comes away victorious at the Etihad Stadium.

Erling Haaland vs Gabriel Jesus

Erling Haaland was unable to extend his impressive goalscoring streak to eight games in Manchester City’s 3-0 FA Cup win over Sheffield United at the weekend, but that shouldn’t be a concern for the defending champions. A brace against Leicester earlier this month took him to 32 league goals as he closes in on Andy Cole and Alan Shearer’s joint-record for the most goals scored in a Premier League season.

The Norwegian hitman scored City’s decisive third when these two met at the Emirates back in February, but was shut out when the pair faced off in the FA Cup at the Etihad at the end of January. Nevertheless, with 20 of his 32 league goals scored on home turf, Haaland will feel confident of putting an Arsenal backline without star centre-back William Saliba to the sword on Wednesday night.

Haaland sealed City’s win at the Emirates (Getty Images)

Conversely, City need to be wary of Arsenal’s own attacking threat. Gabriel Jesus returns to the Etihad for the first time following his summer move down south and the Brazilian seems hellbent on making up for lost time. Jesus returned from the World Cup injured, and finally made his first league start since November in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Leeds on April Fool’s Day.

With a brace against the Whites and goals against Liverpool and West Ham, four of Jesus’ nine league goals this season have come in his last four starts for Mikel Arteta’s side. Up against his former employers on Wednesday, Jesus could prove the perfect forward to really dent City’s title push and give this out-of-form Arsenal side the necessary shot in the arm to get them over the line.


Kevin De Bruyne vs Martin Odegaard

Following the World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne endured a brief dip in form, and found himself out of the team on a couple of occasions, starting from the bench against Tottenham and Crystal Palace in February and March, respectively. However, following the March international break, the Belgian has been in sensational form having been directly involved in four goals in his last three league outings, providing three assists to move four clear in the race to be crowned the division’s top assister (15).

What’s proven key about De Bruyne this season is that he is one to turn up to the big occasion. He was directly involved in two of Manchester City’s three goals in their 3-1 win at the Emirates earlier this year, and has either scored or assisted against Liverpool and Manchester United. A big game player, they don’t get much bigger in the Premier League this season than the welcome of title rivals Arsenal.

(Getty Images)

De Bruyne may have experience on his side, but the opposite side of the coin; Martin Odegaard brings the youthful exuberance to this vibrant Arsenal outfit. The Gunners captaincy has proven a poisoned chalice in recent years, so when Odegaard was chosen to skipper the side, fans may have feared the worst. However, the Norway international has taken the decision in his stride.

Odegaard has directly contributed to 19 league goals for Arsenal this season, scoring 12, with returns not seen since his time with Vitesse. Crucially, though, is what the 24-year-old brings to the side off the ball. Odegaard has won possession in the attacking third more times (41) than any other player in the Premier League this season and if anyone can disrupt City’s ability to play out from the back, then it’s the Gunners’ captain.


Jack Grealish vs Gabriel Martinelli

Jack Grealish attracted his fair-share of critics following a disappointing debut season at Manchester City, but he’s taken his game to the next level in 2022/23. Grealish enjoyed ample freedom in the attacking third during his final campaign with Aston Villa, so he essentialy had to redevelop his game to become a better system player under Pep Guardiola.

Five goals and six assists may seem a disappointing return for a player of Grealish’s ilk in this free-scoring City side, yet he has established himself as one of the most consistent performers in the division, as evidenced by a rating of 7.35. City fans know he’ll keep the ball well to maintain pressure on opposition defences, but is capable of finding the breakthrough where needed, noted by commendable returns of 2.1 dribbles and 2.1 key passes per 90. While Haaland and De Bruyne have drawn the plaudits, Grealish has been just as important as the former pair in this City side.

And he is not the only key left winger for his side, with Gabriel Martinelli rediscovering his goalscoring touch at just the right time for Arsenal. Martinelli kicked off 2023 with a six-game goalless streak, and this barren run actually saw him dropped by Arteta for their eventual 4-2 win over Aston Villa. The Brazilian netted late on off the bench at Villa Park, and since then; has been nigh-on unstoppable.

Indeed, Martinelli has been directly involved in a goal in all but one of his last 10 league outings, scoring eight goals and laying on a further three assists. Arsenal’s top scorer with 15 league goals to his name, Martinelli will hope to end the Gunners’ away day woes at City, with the north London side failing to score, let alone win, on their last four visits to Manchester.


John Stones vs Rob Holding

What’s been key in Manchester City’s late surge to leapfrog Arsenal into first place has been John Stones’ versatility. Comfortable at centre-back, right-back or in midfield, Stones has been consistent in both denying opponents and dictating the tempo for the defending champions, allowing Guardiola to implement an attacking 3-2-4-1 system. A pass success rate of 93.7 per cent is the best in the Premier League this season, with some going as far as to say that the England international is currently the best centre-back in the game.

That’s a bold call, but there is logic behind the assumption. Stones is one of the most accomplished players on the ball, and the ease with which he turns under pressure is not to be underestimated. This is key in helping turn defence into attack with City, unlike at the Emirates, expected to dominate proceedings.

This is unfortunate for Rob Holding, who has struggled alongside Gabriel in the absence of William Saliba. Saliba’s injury, coupled with Takehiro Tomiyasu’s spell on the sidelines, has proven a huge blow in Arsenal’s title pursuit, with Holding nowhere near the level required of a team chasing the Premier League title.

Arteta’s side are conceding an average of 3.3 league goals per 90 when Holding starts, with the 27-year-old lacking the composure both on and off the ball Saliba brings to the side. He nullified Haaland in the FA Cup tie at the Etihad in January, but Holding’s defensive shortcomings have destabilised Arsenal. City should ruthlessly take advantage in Wednesday’s title decider.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.