After a much-needed interlull, Arsenal return to Premier League action in typical fashion: another tough opponent eager to assert their top-four credentials in Pep Guardiola’s unpredictable Manchester City side.
With only one league victory in our last five, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a return to consistent form is needed. Supporters are becoming more disgruntled and although City themselves have been criticised for a lack of consistency this term, many have them as favourites to prevail here.
Arsène Wenger has taken a large portion of blame for the team’s collective shortcomings in recent months. Many critics have bemoaned a lack of desire in tough moments, but the Frenchman was characteristically honest in his assessment of how things currently stand.
“Our season will be decided by the next two months and the ability we show to fight,” he said.
“We have had enough press conferences [about my future] and at this moment, it’s not the most important thing at the club.”
“It’s a strange season because we played 20 games unbeaten but I cannot sit here and say we have no flaws in our team because we have,” he continued.
In addition to that, Wenger provided updates on the fitness of some first-team players too.
Creative midfielder, Mesut Özil, has been described as being “in contention” to start once more, having made a cameo appearance for Germany this past week and working hard in training since his return.
Lucas Perez (thigh) is not fit to feature and the Spaniard hasn’t been given a timescale for return either. First-choice goalkeeper, Petr Cech (calf), isn’t expected to start again until after our midweek clash with West Ham at the earliest, whilst Santi Cazorla (Achilles) is a long-term absentee.
With that in mind, there are not expected to be many alterations across the starting line-up on Sunday.
David Ospina will, fitness permitting, start in goal whilst it’ll be interesting to see whether Wenger opts for Oxlade-Chamberlain in a holding midfield role – having impressed for England there last week – or utilises Aaron Ramsey alongside Granit Xhaka.
Midfield duo Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny were unused against West Brom but could be useful here. There are endless possibilities and a few knocks to remain cautious over, as both Koscielny and Gibbs are both minor doubts to start.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Xhaka, The Ox; Welbeck, Alexis, Özil; Giroud.
City are two points below second-placed Tottenham and a point ahead of Liverpool in fourth. As a result, every point is potentially crucial in their pursuit for the highest league position possible this term.
A 4-0 thrashing against Everton is their only league defeat in 2017 and it has fired players up.
They’ve got attacking threats across the pitch and despite defensive frailties, will prove a tough test for Arsenal – especially given the frenetic manner of their 2-1 home win in December.
As for team news, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne are just two of their key players who have recovered from knocks sustained on international duty and will be expected to play on Sunday afternoon.
Zabaleta and Sagna are both also available for selection, leaving Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus their only long-term absentees.
Possible XI (4-1-4-1): Caballero; Fernandinho, Stones, Otámendi, Clichy; Touré; Sterling, de Bruyne, Silva, Sané; Aguero.