LONDON: Arsenal were exposed as Premier League title pretenders when they were thrashed by Manchester City almost a year ago but Mikel Arteta’s side head to the north-west on Sunday as genuine contenders with momentum on their side.

With 10 matches remaining Arsenal lead a three-way title race having won eight successive games, scoring an avalanche of goals in the process, and are brimming with confidence.

Heading into what is shaping up to be a crucial week featuring two rounds of fixtures, Arsenal have 64 points, the same as Liverpool who they lead on goal difference.

With City on 63 points it is the first time since 2014 that one point separates the top three after 28 games.

Liverpool, whose audacious quadruple bid was ended by an FA Cup defeat at Manchester United, can go top when they host Brighton &

Hove Albion on Sunday before City kick off.

The mood in the Arsenal camp is a far cry from the build-up to last season’s trip to the Etihad Stadium when they arrived in trepidation after cracks had appeared in their facade.

They were duly thrashed 4-1 and from that moment on City’s third successive Premier League title was a formality.

City are unbeaten in the league since Dec 6 but have drawn two of their last five, notably the 1-1 draw at Liverpool earlier this month — a result that allowed Arsenal to stay just ahead of both their title rivals.

Pep Guardiola’s City side were a touch fortunate to escape from Anfield with a point and worryingly have injuries to several key players as they prepare to face Arsenal. They will be without defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones after both were injured on England duty.

“Kyle’s [injury is] more tough than John’s but they will be out — I don’t know for how many games,” said Guardiola at his pre-match press conference on Friday.

However, there was more positive news for Guardiola as Ederson, Manuel Akanji, Jack Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne all look set to return from injury.

De Bruyne, who sat out City’s 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Newcastle before the international break, has suffered an injury-plagued season after missing the first five months of the campaign with a hamstring tear.

However, the 32-year-old has provided 12 assists and scored twice in 12 appearances for City this season when fit.

“Kevin is so important,” added Guardiola. “It has been a tough season for him with injuries. He has been out for a long time but he trained really well yesterday. We will see what he does in the next days.”

While Sunday’s game is the last direct clash between any of the top three teams, Guardiola said the game holds no more importance than any of the other remaining

fixtures.

“Right now, every game is so important. The next game will be important as well,” he said.

Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool should be top by the time City and Arsenal kick off, although they will be wary of a Brighton side who have proved capable of taking points off the

big boys.

Liverpool still have a long list of players out injured, however, forward Darwin Nunez is available after overcoming a hamstring issue.

“It’s all tricky and everybody needs luck with injuries, we didn’t have it until now but hopefully the boys are coming back. We need them. Then it’s about finding a way to win the game,” Klopp told reporters on Friday.

“We have found a way which is good for us to play. Before the [international] break we had games against Manchester City and Manchester United. In parts of those, we played some of our best football of the season. Now we are back.”

Liverpool have another home game next Thursday against bottom club Sheffield United, a day after Arsenal host Luton Town and City welcome Aston Villa.

Villa hold a slight advantage

in the battle for fourth. They have 56 points after 29 games

while Tottenham Hotspur have 53 from 28.

Villa host Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday after Spurs aim to bounce back from a 3-0 drubbing at Fulham as they welcome relegation battlers Luton.

The Hatters were lifted out of the bottom three after Nottingham Forest were deducted four points by the Premier League but they remain in a precarious position.

Emotions will be running high at the City Ground where Forest will aim to vent their frustrations on Crystal Palace on Saturday when Vincent Kompany’s second-bottom Burnley continue their escape bid as they travel to mid-table Chelsea.

Fixtures:

Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated): Newcastle United v West Ham United (1230), Bournemouth v Everton, Chelsea v Burnley, Nottingham Forest v Crystal Palace, Sheffield United v Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur v Luton Town, Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers (1730), Brentford v Manchester United (2000).

Sunday: Liverpool v Brighton & Hove Albion (1300), Manchester City v Arsenal (1530).

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2024

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