Match preview: Manchester City vs Arsenal – Can the Gunners bounce back?

After a surprising 2-1 away defeat in midweek at the hands of Everton, it’s essential that Arsenal come away with a good result against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side given how the Premier League table is rapidly forming at the top.

Chelsea’s slender victory against Crystal Palace has meant the Blues are now nine points clear of the chasing pack, with Liverpool and Arsenal in second and third place respectively. Manchester City have the opportunity to leapfrog both into second with a win, and will be hoping that Everton can secure back-to-back victories against their Merseyside rivals on Monday evening.

The Christmas period is well and truly underway and tomorrow’s fixture is set to be an intriguing one with both sides in pursuit of the league title.

Press conference

During the pre-match presser, Arsène Wenger gave a few fitness updates as well as showing optimism that his side will return to winning ways at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon.

Danny Welbeck (knee) has been described as being one week away from returning to normal first team training. The 26-year-old forward has been sidelined since early May, and sustained the long-term injury against this weekend’s opponents.

Arsenal’s English striker Danny Welbeck (2R) receives medical assistance during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 8, 2016. (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) is set to miss his third successive game, but could return in a midfield role at some stage over the next week or two.

When questioned about how his team could manage an away victory against City, “Big games against City mean defend well together and not be timid when you get the ball,” Wenger said.

Sergio Aguero is still sidelined as part of his four-match suspension that he accumulated for a reckless challenge on David Luiz but Wenger remained defiant when questioned about the Argentine’s absence.

“Look, I don’t deny Sergio is an important player for them but they have other important players… we have plenty out,” the boss stated.

Team news

There are no fresh injury problems in the wake of a disappointing defeat against Everton on Tuesday, so it’d be a surprise on Wenger’s part not to see a relatively unchanged side against the sky Blues.

Gabriel is expected to start alongside Laurent Koscielny as the centre-back pairing, with Hector Bellerín and Nacho Monreal operating on either side of the duo to make up the backline.

Alex Iwobi and Lucas Pérez are viable attacking options off the substitutes’ bench, as is Olivier Giroud, although none of the trio have started a Premier League match since the start of November; Iwobi with a lacklustre display during the north London derby.

Arsenal’s Nigerian forward Alex Iwobi (L) celebrates after scoring a goal with his teammate Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil during the UEFA Champions league Group A football match between FC Basel 1893 and Arsenal FC on December 6, 2016 at the St Jakob Park stadium in Basel. (Picture source: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)

Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Ox, Özil; Alexis.

The opposition

Pep Guardiola and his team have collectively come in for a significant amount of criticism in recent weeks, despite an excellent start to the campaign during the early months. Pep previously stressed the importance of patience to the press when he arrived at the CFA, but successive defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Leicester prompted claims the 45-year-old isn’t the world’s best manager and is actually far from it.

That’s unfair to say the least and he’ll be eager for a positive response from his players. Having beaten Watford 2-0 on Wednesday, they received news that midfielder Ilkay Gundogan’s injury is more serious than first thought; the talented German could be sidelined for the remainder of the campaign.

Manchester City’s Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero (L) reacts as he warms up with Manchester City’s German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan ahead of the UEFA Champions League group C football match between Manchester City and Celtic at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England, on December 6, 2016. / AFP / Oli SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Without him, as well as Fernandinho (also suspended), the aforementioned Aguero and Vincent Kompany (knee), it’s not going to be their strongest starting eleven by any stretch. Despite this though, they’ve got an array of talented players in their ranks, most of which are ultimately playing for their places in the side.

Predicted XI (4-1-4-1): Bravo; Zabaleta, Otámendi, Stones, Clichy; Fernando; Silva, Touré, de Bruyne, Sterling; Nolito.

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