Wearing a beaming smile and sliders while pitchside with the Match of the Day 2 team on Sunday, Bukayo Saka’s relaxed demeanour defied the position his side find themselves in.
The result took Arsenal eight points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, and despite having played a game more, the Gunners hold the psychological advantage heading into the international break.
The perhaps unwanted hiatus hands managers Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola a fortnight to prepare for the final two-month run-in, one that is set to be much busier for the latter at Champions League and FA Cup-chasing City.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are out of the cups, and despite the recent Europa League exit, Saka stressed confidence is brimming within the dressing room ahead of April trips to Liverpool and City.
“We don’t fear anyone,” he added. “You can see the way we play, we’ll be ready.
“We just have to try and focus. There’s a lot of noise externally about who’s going to win the league. It can get to our heads, but it’s just game by game. We’re out of very competition, just the Premier League to focus on, 10 finals to go.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Mikel [Arteta] and the coaching staff, the detail they’ve given us to help us improve every day on the pitch.
“You can see, season by season by season, we’re progressing, all of us improving. We’re young and hungry. We want to achieve big things.”
Premier League table
Breaking down the Premier League title run-in
Europe and the cups
As Saka mentions, Arsenal’s schedule reads 10 matches in two months from April. That includes just the one midweek league game, against Manchester City, on 26 April.
City, meanwhile, remain in the FA Cup and Champions League. Should they reach both finals, City could play 18 more matches.
Beyond the midweek fixture at home to Arsenal, City face Bayern Munich over two legs in April, with their league match at home to West Ham still to be arranged.
Home vs away
Six of City’s remaining 11 league games are at home, including the match against Arsenal. The Gunners have five matches at home and five matches away to come.
On the road, though, City face a trio of sides chasing European football – Brighton, Fulham and Brentford, all of whom may well fancy their chances of an upset.
Arsenal, meanwhile, face trips to Liverpool and Newcastle as well as to the Etihad.
Advantage Man City.
Average position of opponents
Arsenal’s run-in includes six of the same opponents that City will face in their final 11 games, including Chelsea and Liverpool.
The average league position of Arsenal’s opponents is 11.1, compared to City’s 11.36. Yes, that close.
Advantage Arsenal, barely.
Beware: the clubs fighting for survival
The fascinating gulf in the Premier League table – created by Aston Villa’s four-game unbeaten run – means just about every club still has something to fight for, and that is likely to remain the case going well into May.
No easy points, therefore, meaning visits to West Ham and Nottingham Forest are far from certainties for Arsenal, with City heading to Southampton and Everton.
Both Arsenal and City face five matches apiece against the teams battling to beat relegation.
No advantage here, as it stands.
Arsenal host Wolves, while City are away at Brentford. If it comes down to Sunday 28 May, the Gunners will look to make home advantage count, and may well hope that Brentford still have Europe in their sights.
Premier League title predictions
i‘s team predicted Arsenal’s and City’s remaining results using a table predictor, here’s the outcome:
Daniel Storey, i‘s chief football writer – Arsenal 94 points, Man City 92 points
I’ve already gone through my waves of doubting Arsenal and have come out the other side, ready to believe in them. I have them topping the table by two points, even with defeat at the Etihad, because they just keep swatting away the rest. Arsenal have dropped only nine points against teams outside the top three – I just don’t see how that’s going to come unstuck unless injuries hit.
Kevin Garside, i‘s chief sports correspondent – Arsenal 92 points, Man City 90 points
Though Arsenal have the more demanding run-in with trips to Liverpool, City and Newcastle, plus home games against Chelsea and Brighton, they are competing on only one front. If City reach the FA Cup final and Champions League semis as expected they have seven games more than Arsenal in as many weeks. Taking that into account the Garside tea leaves predict Arsenal to surrender seven points with draws against City and Chelsea and defeat at Newcastle. Draws with Chelsea as well as Arsenal prove City’s downfall.
Mark Douglas, i‘s northern football correspondent – Man City 92 points, Arsenal 91 points
Manchester City set the standards and when April arrives, they rarely stutter. I have them down to drop just two points – against Brighton at home – and I don’t think that’s unrealistic. Arsenal are unlikely to lose many either but that trip to the Etihad looms large. Avoid defeat there and I think they will win the league but in my simulation I have City on 92 and Arsenal on 91. It’s going to be an epic chase and a classic title race.
Evan Bartlett, i deputy sports editor – Man City 94 points, Arsenal 92 points
Arsenal have had an incredible season but City’s squad of grizzled champions are just getting warmed up – they’re now unbeaten in 10 and have scored 19 unanswered goals and I can’t see that form stopping anytime soon. With Arsenal’s smaller squad already starting to struggle with injury, I can see them dropping points away at Anfield and St James’ Park. The crunch fixture at the Etihad looks like a true title-decider that City will be favourites to win.
Katherine Lucas, i sports journalist – Man City 90 points, Arsenal 87 points
City certainly don’t have an easy run-in but they have got over the line in four of the past five seasons. There are a few potential chances for City to drop points – probably at Brighton, or at Everton where they have a patchy record – and Guardiola will also be navigating an unkind Champions League draw, when Arsenal are now focusing on just the one competition. That said, trips to Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham are all going to be tricky and Arsenal have a mountain to climb when they travel to the Etihad. If City win that, the title is theirs again.
Michael Hincks, i sports journalist – Man City 92 points, Arsenal 92 points, City to win on GD
Honestly, this was my first go at the league table predictor. I have Arsenal and City finishing level on 92 points, and City winning the title by a goal difference just five better off than the Gunners. That meeting at the Etihad is crucial, but it is the away matches that intrigue me the most. I have both teams dropping points on the road, with one of Brighton, Fulham or Brentford taking points from City, but potentially both Newcastle and Liverpool breaking Arsenal hearts. It’s going to be close.
Layton Ryan-Parson, i apprentice journalist – Man City 94 points, Arsenal 94 points, City to win on GD
Arsenal will narrowly miss out on their first Premier League title in 19 years. Despite City’s busy fixture list with games in the FA Cup and Champions League remaining, it is near impossible to see where this team, currently unbeaten in 10, drop points. Especially with Erling Haaland, who has nine goals in his past three matches, back in monstrous and cyborg-like form. Arsenal could be without William Saliba, who has proved to be an integral part of Arteta’s high-line defence, for an extended amount of time due to injury with trips to Anfield and St James’ park looming.
i predictions total: 5 in favour of Man City, 2 for Arsenal
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