Warning Arsenal: Man City have found their irresistible groove

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Julian Alvarez of Manchester City celebrates after scoring their teams first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool FC at Etihad Stadium on April 01, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Julian Alvarez of Manchester City celebrates after scoring their teams first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool FC at Etihad Stadium on April 01, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) /

Arsenal supporters are well aware of the enormity of the task that awaits their side down the final stretch of the 2022/23 season. The Gunners’ current buffer at the summit is comfortable – for now – but their title rivals have rediscovered their irresistible groove. 

There are just nine games to go in Arsenal’s Premier League season. Mikel Arteta’s side are merely 810 minutes away from immortality. An eight-point advantage has Gooners dreaming of an unlikely title triumph, but a rather daunting final stretch awaits.

Holding off Man City in this title race will not be easy, especially given the Citizens’ experience and current form.

You can only marvel at the consistent brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s side. Since the Spaniard arrived on these shores, City have borderline monopolised the division despite the strength of their competitors. Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering Liverpool, one that has reached three Champions League finals and won one, have lifted the Premier League trophy just once as a result of City’s majesty.

Warning Arsenal, Man City have found their irresistible groove

The Sky Blues headed into 2022/23 as back-to-back champions, and the arrival of superstar forward Erling Haaland meant many projected a non-competitive title race given the ongoing rebuilds at Chelsea, Man Utd, and Liverpool.

But a surprise contender emerged from the red side of north London and have since forced City into an unfamiliar position. Guardiola’s side have gone from the perenially hunted to the determined hunters as a result of Arsenal’s City-like consistency this term.

The Gunners have transcended the ‘City lite’ tag and evolved into a team not only capable of competing with the champions, but potentially dethroning them. They’d be worthy champions, we all know that, and City are going to make them work for it down the stretch, that’s for sure.

While their form has occasionally been indifferent this term, they haven’t missed a beat in recent weeks.

Despite the presence of a potentially record-breaking goalscorer, Guardiola has struggled to find the optimal formula to complement his Norwegian menace. The Spaniard’s 3-2-5 possession structure has been pretty ubiquitous, but personnel tinkerings have made it harder for his side to find the rhythm that’s synonymous with the Sky Blues. As a result, City have already dropped points in more games this season (eight) than they did during their imperious 2017/18 and 2018/19 title-winning campaigns (six in each). They only dropped points in nine last season.

But how many times have we seen it with this City side? How many times has Guardiola stumbled upon his optimal formula at a critical point in the season which has sparked a hugely productive run of form? In 2018/19, they rattled off 14 wins to close out the season and hold off a rampant Liverpool side for the title. 15 consecutive wins midway through 2020/21 saw them pull away from the chasing pack before they went 12 unbeaten down the stretch last term to pip Liverpool to the post once more.

History seems to be repeating itself in 2022/23 with City picking up their fourth straight Premier League victory (seventh in all competitions) in what was arguably their most impressive showing of the campaign thus far.

We’re all aware of the headaches Klopp’s Reds have given Pep over the years. Sure, City’s great contemporary rivals may not be the force they once were, but they beat the Citizens at Anfield and their 7-0 triumph over Man Utd in March highlighted their capacity to turn up for the big occasion.

But despite taking the lead, there was an element of inevitability surrounding Liverpool’s demise at the Etihad. The Reds were competitive for a big chunk of Saturday’s bout, but they were eventually blown away by a superb City performance.

This was a sky blue exhibition, and further evidence that Pep has discovered the solution he’s longed for this term. His 3-2 build-up is comprised of elite technicians in the pivot, a leader at its heart, as well as two athletic defenders who are comfortable defending the channels. John Stones’ emergence as an Andrea Pirlo-like presence in Guardiola’s midfield has handed greater freedom to Kevin De Bruyne and, in particular, Ilkay Gundogan higher up the pitch.

Liverpool attempted to match and overwhelm City in the middle of the park, but the hosts’ technical proficiency meant the Reds’ once revered press wasn’t a major factor. City were able to get one-on-one specialists Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez into the game constantly, while facilitator Julian Alvarez tied things together at the top of the pitch and was involved in several of City’s four goals.

The stellar performance of his starting XI meant the absences of Erling Haaland and Phil Foden weren’t hard felt, with only Bernardo Silva and Cole Palmer being used off the bench. If there is a potential vulnerability to City down the stretch, it’s that their squad isn’t as deep compared to previous iterations. Sure, Guardiola is blessed with an abundance of talent everywhere he turns in the dressing room, but he perhaps doesn’t have the two obvious options for each function within his system that he used to have.

Poor bloke.

Nevertheless, their hectic schedule could eventually compromise their attempt to chase down the Gunners – who aren’t competing on multiple fronts. Mikel Arteta will be hoping that fatigue will play a factor in the run-in because, right now, it’s hard to envisage when this City side will next drop points.

Fortunately, though, Arsenal know a thing or two about winning games and they knocked off their seventh on the spin against Leeds. They’ve continued to answer City’s call in recent weeks, but the line may get a little busier with trips to Anfield, the Etihad, and St. James’ Park on the horizon.