Before they settle the scores in potentially two Premier League title-deciding ties, Arsenal and Manchester City lock horns in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The FA Cup might not be the priority for either of the teams, but a win on Friday night could have a sizable impact on both teams’ Premier League title aspirations.
In the third round of the competition, Manchester City made light work of another Premier League heavyweights, Chelsea. Graham Potter’s side is going through a transitional period, but not even the most deluded Blues fan can deny that it was a humiliating result for the Londoners. Riyad Mahrez fired a brace that sandwiched goals from Julián Álvarez and Phil Foden in a 4-0 rout.
But to progress further in the competition, Manchester City now face the only team that sit above them in the Premier League standings this season; Arsenal.
Pep Guardiola’s side trail the Gunners by five points in the English top flight, despite playing a match more. Therefore, it’s shaping up to be an excruciating test of City’s mettle at the Etihad Stadium under Friday night lights.
Since Manchester City don’t return to Premier League action before February first week, Pep Guardiola has the luxury of fielding a full-strength team against Arsenal.
Erling Haaland, who comes on the back of his fourth Premier League hattrick, will be keen to bring his shooting boots to the FA Cup. Manchester City’s only fresh injury concern is Phil Foden, who missed training with a foot problem. But the England international expects to be available for selection.
Arsenal had a relatively easier route to the Fourth Round as they saw off lower-league opponents Oxford United in a 3-0 away win. Eddie Nketiah struck twice before Mohamed Elneny broke the deadlock.
Mikel Arteta’s side have been flying high this season.
They have amassed 50 points in the league only halfway through the season. No team have lost the Premier League crown after getting so many points on the board at this point of the season. A scintillating 3-2 win over arch-rivals Manchester United should take their already high confidence levels to even greater heights.
But will it make more sense for Arsenal to sacrifice the FA Cup, a trophy they have won a few times in recent years, for solely focusing on Premier League glory that has evaded them since 2004?
That question has been thrown around a lot lately, and it looks incredibly likely that Arsenal might choose to rest some of their key players in the trip to the Etihad.
Leandro Trossard might get his first start for Arsenal following an impressive cameo against Manchester United. Emile Smith Rowe might play on the right, with Trossard taking the opposite flank. So, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both could start the match on the bench.
Kieran Tierney might replace Oleksandr Zinchenko in the left fullback position. Takehiro Tomiyasu could deputise for Ben White at right back.
Manchester City might get the better of their new title rivals in front of their home crowd.
None of the teams would be particularly keen to play a rematch amidst an already congested fixture.
So, we expect the tie to be settled on Friday night and the Citizens could get the tickets to the next round with a 2-1 victory.
Kickoff: January 28, Saturday, 1:30 AM
Venue: Etihad Stadium