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Manchester City vs. Arsenal Combined XI - Haaland, Saka, Rice

:Headline: Manchester City vs. Arsenal Combined XI - Haaland, Saka, Rice:
Ahead of Sunday's Premier League battle between Manchester City and Arsenal, Sports Mole selects a combined XI from both star-studded squads.
Sports Mole

Following a nine-match undercard on the Premier League Easter weekend, fans flock to the Etihad for Sunday's headline act, as Manchester City and Arsenal bid to enhance their title credentials at the expense of one another.

Only two places and one point separate Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta's troops in the table, with the Gunners sitting pretty at the summit and Man City also needing to usurp Liverpool in order to reclaim their perch.

The Citizens return to domestic duty still unbeaten at the Etihad across all tournaments in the 2023-24 season, although their upcoming visitors have won all eight of their Premier League games of 2024 so far.

Furthermore, each of the first two meetings between Arsenal and Man City in the current campaign have seen the Gunners emerge triumphant, although it has been nine years since they last prevailed at the Etihad.

With a spectacular array of quality on display and injuries also rearing their ugly heads, Sports Mole picks a combined XI from both squads, using only players expected to be available for the showdown.

Statistically speaking, there has not been a better goalkeeper in the current Premier League campaign than David Raya, who boasts a division-high nine clean sheets and a league-low 0.86 goals against per 90. However, the Spaniard is yet to reach the revered levels of City stalwart Ederson, who is expected to be involved after recovering from an injury and only has one fewer clean sheet on his record, so he gets our vote to guard the goal.

However, neither John Stones nor Kyle Walker will be involved in Sunday's blockbuster, if Guardiola was indeed telling the truth in his pre-game press conference. Rico Lewis might be a terrific talent, but Mr. Consistent Ben White continues to shine on the right-hand side - even in the self-imposed absence of international minutes - with two goals and four assists this term, and he was a simple pick in place of the stricken Walker.

The left-back position has been a particularly sticky one for Arteta in recent months, as Oleksandr Zinchenko has struggled for fitness and is often found wanting defensively, while Jakub Kiwior is coming into his own on that side. Similarly, his former master Guardiola is without an undisputed option on that side, but Nathan Ake has proven that he belongs with the European champions and earns our thumbs-up over Josko Gvardiol, yet to truly settle since his big-money switch from RB Leipzig.

Arguably the Premier League's outstanding centre-backs in 2022-23 join forces in a formidable partnership here, as City's Ruben Dias and Arsenal's William Saliba link arms. The former can still be an unwilling victim of Pep roulette, but his pass completion success rate of 93.5% is the third-highest in the league, while a progressive carrying distance of 5442 yards is second only to Brighton & Hove Albion's Jan Paul van Hecke. Arsenal's fan favourite Saliba also ranks in the top 10 of the latter category - with an additional two goals and one assist to show for his exploits this season - and unlike last season, Arsenal are entering the run-in with the ever-composed Frenchman fully fit and firing.

Arsenal's influential skipper Martin Odegaard would normally be a surefire pick for a combined XI, but the Norwegian can count himself incredibly unlucky to come up against one of the finest playmakers to ever grace the Premier League. Despite managing just 14 appearances this term, Kevin De Bruyne has had a direct hand in 15 goals - two of his own and a remarkable 13 assists, the latter tally being six more than Odegaard has managed in 36 outings. Having also battled back from the concern which denied him the chance to don the Belgium colours in March, De Bruyne slots straight into our three-man engine room.

There is space for one advanced Arsenal man in the triumvirate, though, as Declan Rice vindicates his British-record price tag week in week out, whether that be in his former defensive role or his newfound number eight position. The Englishman's tally of six goals and six assists in the 2023-24 Premier League is identical to that of Odegaard, and seven of those contributions have come in his last five top-flight appearances, further demonstrating his masterful adaptability and athleticism.

Jorginho's fabulous work in the deepest-lying role has given Rice licence to roam forward more often, but the Italian - and arguably no other defensive midfielder in world football - could pip Man City's all-round maestro Rodri to the number six position. Rather spookily, the Spaniard shares Odegaard and Rice's tally of six goals and six assists in the current Premier League season, but he blows the competition out of the water when it comes to progressive passes and passes into the final third, with a league-high 264 and 274 respectively.

Arteta revealed on Friday that Bukayo Saka has a "chance" of battling back from a muscle injury to start on Sunday, giving us a sufficient reason to include the Hale End starboy in the right-wing slot. Deceptively strong for his size and close to unstoppable when cutting inside on the half-turn, Saka has 13 goals and eight assists under his belt already in the 2023-24 Premier League, but with talent comes torment - the 22-year-old has been fouled 50 times in the top flight this term. Gabriel Martinelli - October's match-winner against City - might be back as well, but the Brazilian's respectable contributions this term pale in comparison to Phil Foden, boasting 11 goals and seven assists and deservedly lapping up all the plaudits in the process.

Man City's towering talisman Erling Haaland and rejuvenated Arsenal attacker Kai Havertz share something in common this season - both have scored in four successive Premier League matches, with the latter achieving the feat in the Gunners' four games just before the international break. In contrast, Haaland has only managed so many goals in his last 10 games in the top flight, but the Golden Boot is still his to lose with 18 strikes in total, and the 23-year-old's rightful spot in the number nine role was under no real threat, in spite of Havertz's marked improvement.

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Read more about Pep Guardiola Mikel Arteta David Raya Kyle Walker John Stones Ederson Rico Lewis Ben White Jakub Kiwior Oleksandr Zinchenko Nathan Ake Josko Gvardiol Ruben Dias William Saliba Jan Paul van Hecke Gabriel Magalhaes Martin Odegaard Kevin De Bruyne Declan Rice Jorginho Rodri Bukayo Saka Phil Foden Gabriel Martinelli Erling Haaland Kai Havertz Football
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Premier League Table
CManchester CityMan City38287396346291
4Aston Villa382081076611568
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs382061274611366
7Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381861485622360
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd38186145758-160
9West Ham UnitedWest Ham381410146074-1452
10Crystal Palace381310155758-149
11Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton381212145562-748
14Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38137185065-1546
17Nottingham ForestNott'm Forest3899204967-1832
RLuton TownLuton3868245285-3326
RSheffield UnitedSheff Utd38372835104-6916
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