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Dec 15, 2019 at 4.30pm UK
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Preview: Arsenal vs. Manchester City - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Arsenal vs. Manchester City - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Sunday's Premier League clash between Arsenal and champions Manchester City, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
Sports Mole

Pep Guardiola will bring up 200 matches in charge of Manchester City when the champions visit Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Both sides have endured disappointing campaigns to date, with Man City slipping 14 points off the pace set by Liverpool and Arsenal beginning the weekend in ninth place, seven points off the top four.

Match preview

Guardiola's previous 199 matches in charge of Man City have generally been gilded with great success, but he brings up his double-century in a position of unfamiliar vulnerability.

Rumours have even surfaced that the Spaniard could walk away from the club at the end of the season and, while Guardiola was quick to shut down suggestions that he has an exit clause in his contract, a summer revamp looks increasingly likely.

Having accumulated a whopping 198 points over the previous two campaigns, Man City now find themselves 14 points off leaders Liverpool following last weekend's derby defeat to Manchester United, and that gap could grow to 17 by the time they kick off against Arsenal.

Never in Guardiola's glittering managerial career has one of his sides fared worse after 16 games of a season than City's current tally of 32 points, with the champions having already lost as many games and dropped the same number of points as they did throughout the whole of last season and more than they did in their 100-point 2017-18 campaign.

Indeed, rather than now focusing on a third consecutive title, Man City must first concern themselves with catching an in-form Leicester City side that sits six points clear of them ahead of their own visit to the Etihad Stadium next weekend.

Guardiola's side have boasted a well-earned aura of invincibility around them over the past two years, but that is no longer the case having dropped points against Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United amongst others this season, and their current run of three wins, three draws and two defeats from their last eight games across all competitions is verging on crisis mode by their own standards.

City have always been good at bouncing back from their rare defeats in the Guardiola era, as they did in midweek with a 4-1 cruise over Dinamo Zagreb, but such form will have sown a seed of doubt into the minds of the players, as well as increasing the belief from Arsenal's point of view.

Not since the beginning of November have Man City won back-to-back games across all competitions, and with league matches against Leicester and Wolves to come after Sunday's showdown, it could be that they drop yet more points during the festive period.

There is no doubt that the failure to replace Vincent Kompany, coupled with Aymeric Laporte's injury, has severely cost the champions this season, and they arrive at the Emirates without a clean sheet in their last 10 matches stretching back to October 26.

City remain the division's leading scorers and could net in a club record-equalling 20th successive league away game this weekend, but whether a defence which has shipped more goals than the likes of Sheffield United and Crystal Palace can keep Arsenal's attackers at bay remains to be seen.

Arsenal's problems are similar but even more deep-rooted, with the Gunners boasting some of the deadliest forwards in the league who are hampered by a defence which has failed to keep a clean sheet in 13 matches.

Just two of those 13 games have ended in victory, including only one of their last 11, and even that Monday night triumph over West Ham United was not enough to paper over the cracks for most.

Arsenal were poor for much of that match and deservedly trailed at half time before a nine-minute blitz saw them end their longest winless run for 42 years, leaving them now searching for back-to-back league triumphs for the first time since August.

Another comeback was required in midweek as Arsenal survived a brief scare against Standard Liege, going 2-0 down before another quickfire brace secured their place in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Success in that competition may be their best hope of returning to the Champions League next season given that they are seven points adrift of the top four after 16 games, which is the same gap which separates them from the relegation zone.

It has not been a textbook audition for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg so far, then, and one of the more intriguing subplots surrounding Sunday's match is the presence of Mikel Arteta - a favourite for the Arsenal job alongside Carlo Ancelotti - in the Man City dugout.

If Ljungberg does stay in charge for the foreseeable future then things will not get much easier for him, with Man City, Chelsea and Manchester United all to come in the next five games.

All of those games come at home, which ordinarily would be a positive except for the fact that Arsenal are winless in their last five outings at the Emirates Stadium, including defeats in their last two. Not since March 2018 have they lost three home games in a row.

The Gunners have only kept one clean sheet in front of their own fans all season and could concede two or more goals in four successive home games for the first time since December 1965. Should one of those be the opener then it would also be the first time they have conceded the first goal in six consecutive Premier League matches.

Couple that with a poor recent record against Man City and Sunday's match does not look like a promising proposition for the home side, but they will also know that there has rarely been a better time to face City in recent years and the opportunity to earn a significant feather in Ljungberg's cap is certainly there.

Arsenal Premier League form: DLDDLW
Arsenal form (all competitions): DLDLWD

Man City Premier League form: WLWDWL
Man City form (all competitions): WDDWLW

Team News

Arsenal will hand a late fitness test to Nicolas Pepe after he missed Thursday's match against Standard Liege with a bruised knee.

Hector Bellerin is also a doubt after pulling out of the West Ham game during the warm-up due to a hamstring problem, meaning that Ainsley Maitland-Niles could once again start at right-back.

Former captain Granit Xhaka is still sidelined due to concussion, while Dani Ceballos, Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney, the latter of whom is set for three months out with a dislocated shoulder, have also been ruled out.

Gabriel Martinelli will be hopeful of keeping his starting spot after scoring against West Ham, and he could follow in the footsteps of Ian Wright, Davor Suker and Alex Iwobi as the only players to net on their first two Premier League starts for the club.

Alexandre Lacazette has scored all five of his goals at home this season but could be forced to sit out again, while on the other side Gabriel Jesus has hit all 10 of his goals this season away from home.

The Brazilian will continue up front in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero, who has been joined in the treatment room by John Stones.

Goalkeeper Ederson is expected to recover from illness in time to feature, but there is a bigger question mark over David Silva, who missed training on Friday with a leg injury.

Phil Foden impressed in midweek and will be hopeful of deputising for Silva again, although Ilkay Gundogan is more likely to replace the Spaniard.

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Torreira; Pepe, Ozil, Martinelli; Aubameyang

Man City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Mendy; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Head To Head

Man City have won their last five meetings with Arsenal across all competitions, scoring 14 goals in that time and conceding just twice.

Four of those wins have come in the Premier League, meaning that Arsenal could lose five successive league games against a team for the first time since 1985.

Man City could also become the first team to win three top-flight away games against Arsenal since 1995, having record back-to-back triumphs at the Gunners following a run of only one win in 32 before that.

We say: Arsenal 1-3 Man City

Man City have been more prone to slip-ups in recent weeks than at any point in the last two seasons, so it would not be a major shock if Arsenal were to come away from this game with something to show for it. However, the Gunners have even greater problems of their own at the moment and, if Man City are anywhere near their best, it is likely to be a relatively comfortable away win.

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